Identity theft has become a hot issue in recent weeks, the subject of various advisories from bankers and other professionals, and for good reason.
"Phishing" scams seek personal information that allow thieves to access private accounts and files. They've become commonplace in e-mail boxes and through fax machines.
This week, the Hawai'i Society of Certified Public Accountants alerted the public to e-mails and faxes circulating on Internal Revenue Service letterhead. The letter asserted that "our records indicate you are a non-resident alien" and urged the recipient to send updated information correcting any errors.
Another example, sent by e-mail across the Net, is a plea from Wells Fargo Online Banking to submit identity information at a Web site.
As soon as alerts are issued, scammers often change their tactics; these specific spoofs may go underground for a while.
But there are tipoffs enabling consumers to recognize similar scams. Fraudulent communications often include a generic salutation ("Dear Customer," or something similar) rather than the recipient's name. And frequently they will try to disarm the reader, ironically by including a fraud warning.
Consumers should indeed be warned. Don't trust any letter seeking private information to be submitted through unsecured channels. It's probably a fake — a potentially dangerous one.