Beware of Look-a-Like Websites
More and more people use the Internet to access government services and for personal business transactions. People can change mail delivery, renew license tabs, sign up for health insurance, and order credit reports online. But with this accessibility there is a risk: look-a-like websites that charge unnecessary fees, provide inaccurate information, or do not deliver any services at all. It can happen like this:
“Michael” recently moved across town and needed to update the address on his driver’s license. He entered “driver’s license address change Minnesota” into a search engine and clicked on the first link that appeared. At first glance, the website looked very similar to the State of Minnesota Department of Vehicle Services website, dps.mn.gov/divisions/dvs. The website’s banner also had the same graphics and color scheme as the official State website. He filled out an application and paid a $15 fee before realizing he was on the wrong website.
What to Look For
When using the Internet, it is important to ensure you are dealing with the correct entity. Legitimate websites are upfront about their identity and services. Look for clues like the extension (ex: .com, .org, .gov, .biz, .net) of the web address. While there are few hard and fast rules dictating which types of entities can use each extension, it is one potential indication of a website’s security. For instance, look for the .gov extension on government websites.
- To find reliable links to all Minnesota State agencies, boards, and commissions, visit the portal at mn.gov/portal/government/state/agencies-boards-commissions.
Similarly, pay close attention to icons—like the padlock—that appear in your URL bar when you are visiting an encrypted, or secure, website. Depending on the Internet browser you use, the URL bar may be shaded a different color when a website is secured. Also, look for “https://” (the “s” is for secure) before the web address, because this indicates that the website and Internet connection are secure. In general, “http://” websites are vulnerable to attack.
- Never provide personal or financial information to insecure or unencrypted websites because fraudsters can “eavesdrop” on this information.
Typing a word or phrase into a search engine will typically bring up thousands of hits, but search engines often place advertisements and sponsored websites (i.e. websites that pay to be the first result of a search) more prominently than legitimate hits. Advertisements can be tricky to spot because they are typically listed on a lightly shaded background or sidebar, where many people mistake them for legitimate websites.
- Know that the website you are looking for may not be the first one listed.
Finally, websites often place a seal from organizations such as the Better Business Bureau, VeriSign, or McAfee to promote the website’s reputation or security. On legitimate websites, these seals should be links to those organizations, not just photos.
- Click on branded logos and “seals of approval” to be sure you know who you are dealing with.
- Never click on links in e-mails or pop-up advertisements. Scam artists use familiar logos and similar-sounding web domains to lure Internet users to fraudulent websites.
- Use a reliable source, like a phone book or the government portal listed above, to double check the contact information for state agencies.
- Report look-a-like websites to the agency or organization being imitated.
Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson
445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1400
St. Paul, MN 55101
TTY: (651) 297-7206
Internet Safety: How to Protect Yourself Against Hackers
With the Internet continuing to grow, some criminals, known as hackers, illegally obtain usernames and passwords from websites, making those with an online account vulnerable. Hackers, generally located outside the United States, are difficult to stop because they use cutting edge technology to evade law enforcement and acquire large amounts of information, often undetected.
Computer Malware and Phishing Schemes
Increasingly, "phishing" e-mails do more than just impersonate a bank in the effort to steal consumers' information. Thieves may send a spam e-mail message, instant message, or pop-up message that infects the consumer's PC with spyware and gives control of it to the thief.
Scams Targeting Computer Owners
By some estimates, over 85 percent of Americans have a computer in their home. Many computer users do not have the technical know-how to fix their computers when they break or jam. Scammers—many from other countries—seek to exploit these facts.