12 ON YOU SIDE: Beware of emails from "friends"

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Be cautious about unsolicited emails, even if it appears to be from a friend. Scammers are using new technologies to trick you, but the same warnings apply - don't give out your banking or personal information if you didn't initiate the transaction to buy something.

It's sometimes difficult to tell the difference between reputable online transactions and criminals using the internet to rob you. You can protect yourself by learning the danger signs of fraud.

Traditional junk mail is usually just annoying, but online junk mail can be damaging.

A lucrative scam, right now, works like this: you get an email from a friend's real account, with an empty subject line and only a link in the body. Usually that means the person's been the victim of a password theft.

Alex Heid is an ethical computer hacker, securing company networks from criminal hackers because he knows all the tricks. He says these bogus emails probably mean a virus infected the computer - and the person behind the virus resells all the stolen info to spammers on the black market.

"Its sole purpose is to steal credit card numbers, log-ins and passwords and bank account information," said Heid.

Your stolen credit card number, date of birth, and social security number end up on the net for anyone to buy, creating another problem: hackers break into your bank account.

They use your stolen info to tell you about a bogus problem. Then they ask for your password and security questions.

"In actuality, it's the virus, and once you enter the info, it will make a money transfer," said Heid.

"They're receiving about 1,000 complaints a day at IC3," said FBI agent Mike Leverock.

The FBI IC3 website is specifically for you to make a complaint if you believe you've been targeted by scammers.

"Once they can get enough of them and build a case, they'll forward to the appropriate law enforcement," said Leverock.

Online fraud is hard to prosecute, so investigators suggest you gather as much evidence as possible and protect yourself by changing your passwords every three months.

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