CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is warning parents to be on alert if they receive an email notification disguised as an alert of a child predator in the area.
Emails claiming to be a “community safety” alert have been circulating throughout the state and nation. The alert appears to be a personalized warning about a child predator that has relocated into the consumer’s neighborhood, but the warning is really a scam.
“Parents want to protect their children, and these scammers count on that to capture your personal information," Morrisey said in a press releaes. “They have designed the email to catch you off guard and feed off of fear so that you will click on embedded links and enter information without taking time to carefully consider who the email came from, what it contains, and why the sender is reaching out to you.
"We encourage people to be aware, stay calm, and think before taking quick action.”
Morrisey said the email often has a subject line that reads “Alert: There is a Child-Predator Living Near You!” The email includes language that a registered sex offender has just moved into the area and instructs the recipient to click a link to learn more. The link directs users to a fake site for a service that sells localized reports on sex offenders. Clicking the link will infect your computer with malware that will search for stored information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card numbers.
As a general rule of thumb, unsolicited, personalized emails should be ignored and marked as spam. If a consumer opens the email, he or she should not click on any links embedded in it.
Consumers who wish to see if any registered sex offenders live in their neighborhood can search by map or address on a number of legitimate websites, including www.familywatchdog.us and www.nsopw.gov. The West Virginia State Police maintains the official West Virginia Sex Offender Registry, which can be accessed online at www.wvsp.gov.
Morrisey urged citizens to follow these safety tips if they receive an unsolicited e-mail with a safety alert:
- Check the “From” field. Scammers have the ability to mask email addresses but they don’t always use it. Watch for email addresses that don’t match the organization.
- Watch for typos, strange phrasing, and bad grammar. It’s easy for scammers to steal a brand’s logo and email format, but poor grammar and sentence structure are good indicators of a scam message.
- Hover over URLs. It’s typical in an e-mail scam for hyperlinked text to read as one thing but the link will point somewhere different.
- Beware of unsolicited, personalized emails. Scams often pretend to be tailored for you, but they’re not. If you never signed up for custom email alerts, you shouldn’t be receiving them.