The growing problem of phony government websites run by crooks outperforming real government websites in search engine results led the FBI on Tuesday to issue a warning to consumers to avoid being victimized.
The pretend government sites are set up to both collect "fraudulent fees" and personal information from victims that can be used for identity theft and a host of other crimes, according to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Victims end up on the phony sites when searching for such things as replacing a Social Security card or getting an Employer Identification number. On the site they are asked to fill out forms to obtain what they are looking for, the FBI said.
%VIRTUAL-WSSCourseInline-963%Information requested on these sites typically includes name, address, phone number, e-mail address, Social Security number, date of birth and mother's maiden name -- pretty much anything a crook would need to apply for credit in your name or even create a phony tax return.
It gets worse.
After turning over all that information, the victim is then asked to pay $29 to $199 for the purported government service. Pay them and the phony sites will then ask for more: a copy of a birth certificate, driver's license or other document that will pretty much allow the thieves to become you.
After paying and sending the information, victims are then told to wait (up to a few weeks) while their request is processed. During that time, the FBI said, additional charges can post to their credit or debit cards.
As a first line of defense, the FBI suggests taking note that federal government websites end with ".gov" rather than ".com."
Here are some further tips from the FBI:
Use search engines or other websites to research the advertised services or person/company you plan to deal with.
Search the Internet for any negative feedback or reviews on the government services company, their Web site, their e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, or other searchable identifiers.
Research the company policies before completing a transaction.
Be cautious when surfing the Internet or responding to advertisements and special offers.
Be cautious when dealing with persons/companies from outside the country.
Maintain records for all online transactions.
If you have been victimized by such a scam, you're asked to contact the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov.