Computer hackers and identity thieves have taken on a new roll: agents of the Homeland Security Department.
At least, that's the claim in a recent round of malicious spam e-mails sent to thousands nation-wide. The scam purports that Homeland Security (DHS) is starting an investigation into a user's activity, and are going to suspend their computer. The easiest way to avoid the investigation? Pay a small fine.
Of course, the e-mail isn't authentic. The real Homeland Security Department and its U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) are warning users not to fall for the scam.
"US-CERT and DHS encourage users and administrators to use caution when encountering these types of email messages and take the following preventive measures to protect themselves from phishing scams and malware campaigns that attempt to frighten and deceive a recipient for the purpose of illegal gain," the agency said.
The tips are fairly common sense things: don't click on any links you get, don't submit any information, don't forward the scam e-mails onto others and always keep your computer's virus software up-to-date.
Another recent scam claims that DHS has intercepted a cashiers check addressed to the user. All they require to release it is a "clearance fee."
"If you cannot come to our office in person for verification, clearance and collection of your check, send the verification and clearance fee of $2,890 to us via Western Union or Money Gram," the e-mail reads.
Some of the e-mails show a degree of sophistication, including using the names and positions of actual DHS officials.
Government officials warn computer users to be cautious.
"A hoax could be malicious, instructing users to delete a file necessary to the operating system by claiming it is a virus. It could also be a scam that convinces users to send money or personal information," the agency said. "Try to verify the information before following any instructions or passing the message along."
The agency's list of common scams includes a warning about a now-classic con: a fake message from DHS requesting assistance in a business transaction with - who else - wealthy Nigerians.