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by Ray DeCosta

Q. I recently received an email from Microsoft informing me that they had found a problem with my computer. They wanted me to send them information such as my name, address, type of Operating System and ID card. It sounded suspicious, so I deleted the email. Was that the right thing to do?

A. You were absolutely correct to refuse to send out any such information. This is a type of phishing scam which is designed to obtain personal information and has been around in various forms for years. They are entertaining to read when they pop up in your Spam folder, but they do snare a few unfortunate people who really think the messages are true.

They are an offshoot of the "Nigerian bank manager" scam. We've all received emails from such an individual who is offering to share some of his $10 million with you. He usually claims to have acquired this money from a closed account and half of it can be yours if you help him spirit it out of the country. Oh, and by the way, he needs the paltry sum of $1,000 for "expenses".

Now the acquisition of personal information is more rewarding to criminals than just getting people to send them money. With enough of your information, thieves can order merchandise, get loans and even buy houses in your name. As part of the phish, you're expected to believe that a huge company such as Microsoft actually prowls the Internet checking people's computers for viruses. Having found something, is someone from Microsoft REALLY going to write or call you about the problem? Perhaps that explains why it takes hours to get a call through to Customer Service - all the agents are out cold-calling people with supposedly more important problems.

Usually your Spam filtering will short-circuit such emails before you even see them. But filtering being what it is, they may occasionally show up in your Inbox instead. There's not a lot you can do about it except look it over for a chuckle, send it to your email website's or Internet Service Provider's Spam address and delete the message.

Published: Courier 2/3/13 - Page 3C