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In response to the financial crisis the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has temporarily raised its coverage on bank and credit union accounts to $250,000. This attempt to buttress consumer confidence was enabled by a provision of federal bailout legislation that authorizes the FDIC to borrow from the treasury in the event of losses exceeding the old limit of $100,000.

Unfortunately, identity thieves, spammers, and other Internet confidence artists have their own harmful response to the crisis. Unsolicited email messages that falsely claim to be from the FDIC seem to be on the rise in an attempt to take advantage of consumer fears and the name of an institution prominent in news of the crisis.

On Thursday the FDIC warned consumers of a specific email scam with a subject line that reads "Funds wired into your account are stolen." The message then attempts to mislead the reader into opening a supposed account statement attached to the email. This file is actually an executable computer program and very likely a malicious one. To provoke the victim into running the program, the message body may claim that an account has been involved in criminal activity or bank errors related to the crisis.

According to its web site the FDIC never sends unsolicited e-mails to consumers. Never open any file attached to an email unless you are certain what the file contains. Do not rely on the fact that the sender’s name seems familiar or official. This kind of information is easily faked. Replying to the email could also reveal personal information. As a practical matter, ordinary email is not private, nor can you be sure of any sender’s or receiver’s identity. It is safer to direct concerns to a bank in person at a branch or by a phone call that the bank customer initiates.

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