The following gives you some idea what the average citizen is dealing with in detecting fraud, or in this case, a scam.
I received a "Citizens Bank Online Alert" which said, "Dear Customer: Due to concerns, for the safety and integrity of the Citizens Bank Online we have issued this warning message. It has come to our attention that your Citizens Bank information needs to be updated as part of our continuing commitment to protect your account in this year 2013 and to reduce the instance of fraud on our website. If you could please take 5-7 minutes out of your online experience and update your personal records you will not run into any future problems with the online service.
"Once you have updated your account records your Citizens Bank Online service will not be interrupted and will continue as normal. Please click Citizens Bank Online to start the update process. If your account information is not updated within 48 hours then your ability to access your account will be restricted. Thank you. We apologize for any inconvenience."
Below this message was all of the data that normally indicates that this is a legitimate message from Citizens Bank. But it is a scam!
When I clicked on the site as directed, it indicated an "Internal Server Error," and, when I clicked on the "webmaster" link as directed, it said, "Warning: Possible phishing site. The address for the website you're visiting contains a username or password. This may be a 'phishing' website. Phishing websites are designed to trick you into disclosing personal or financial information, usually by creating a copy of a legitimate website, such as a bank's."
What made me suspicious? I am not a customer of Citizens Bank, which would already have the information requested. The email was poorly written, unusual for a bank. And then there was the call for action or, in this case, a threat — "If your account information is not updated within 48 hours then your ability to access you account will be restricted." That is a typical scam tactic. I contacted Citizens Bank. forwarded them a copy of the email and they indicated the email letter was a scam.
Scam artists are very clever today and they can easily lure the unwary into providing personal and/or financial information in a number of ways. Legitimate organizations, government or otherwise, do not call or email people and ask for this information. That should tell you right away you are dealing with a scam artist. DO NOT RESPOND — AND DON'T CLICK ON THE LINKS AS I DID. If you hover over the links, you should see a "tooltip" that will tell you who the sender is or isn't. If you have any questions, call the organization that is supposedly contacting you and check to see if that contact is legitimate.
One last thing. When the term "scam artist" is used you get the impression of some guy sitting in a dark room trying to figure out ways to steal your money. Instead, you should think of identity theft and related scams as an industry, operated on a worldwide scale, where the scam artists use all of the latest technology to lure you into providing information they can use to steal your money. Or, in some cases, run up bills in your name that can cause you unbelievable problems. Promises of free money or safe ways to cheat the IRS on taxes are bogus. Don't play their game. Heed the old saying, "It's better to be safe than sorry."