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Beware: Copycats are Cloning Banking,
Investment and Other Business Sites


Online scam artists are becoming gutsier than ever, now creating fake Web sites to get you to hand over your personal information. The latest victim? Citadel Investment Group.

Be aware of small changes in the URLs of the Web sites you frequent -- it could indicate a scam.

Scammers from China cloned the Citadel Web site, creating a spot for investors to input their passwords. Although the site was discovered before any major damage was done, the culprits have disappeared without a trace.

The site looked remarkably similar to Citadel's real site, including their standard logo and even making up fake vice presidents and bios.

And this is not nearly an isolated case. Financial institutions are cloned quite often, and it can be very difficult for consumers to distinguish between legitimate and cloned sites. TD Ameritrade, Investment bank Sandler O'Neill and Partners, and even the IRS have recently faced similar problems.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

Cloned Web sites can be harder to identify than even phishing scams or other online fraud, simply because the Web site will appear legitimate.

However, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team recommend doing the following to avoid becoming a victim:

You can usually tell a Web site is secure if it has "https" in the URL, or displays a lock icon on the screen.

  1. Don't send sensitive information over the Internet without checking the Web site's security. To do this, read the site's privacy policy, and check for evidence that the information will be encrypted. Sites that begin with "https" instead of "http" will do this, as will those that display a lock icon in the bottom right corner of the screen.

  2. Pay attention to the Web site's URL. Though the site may look identical, the URL will not be. Look for variations in spelling or a different domain (.com instead of .net, for instance).

  3. If you are unsure about the site's legitimacy, contact it directly by phone or known e-mail address (not through the site but through your persona account) to verify.

Recommended Reading

Online Auction Fraud: What You Need to Know About the #2 Most Common Fraud in the U.S., Online Auction Fraud

The World's #1 Internet Threat May Be Robbing Your Identity Right Now

Sources June 15, 2008

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