What Is Phishing?
Phishing is a crime perpetuated by thieves who set up phony websites and/or e-mail messages that look like legitimate businesses in an effort to obtain personal information like bank account numbers, passwords, or even Social Security numbers. Banks are often targeted, but other big companies like eBay, Facebook, PayPal, and many others are used in phishing scams.
These crooks are literally “fishing" for your personal information—and they can be very effective. The phony e-mails or websites that imitate your bank look and sound real.
Imagine if you received an e-mail with your bank's logo and branding that said, “During a routine review of your account we noticed a problem. You must verify your account information in order to access your funds. Click here to use our secure server." It doesn't sound unreasonable, especially if the page you go to looks just like your bank.
Never follow instructions like this. You're better off just deleting that e-mail or reporting it to your financial institution. If you're in doubt, just call your bank at the number on your bank statement.
Spelling Origins of “Phishing"
In the early days of the Internet, some hackers were known as “phreaks." The use of “ph" represented the unknown, underground nature of hacking culture. Since phishing is an illegal, underground activity, it, too, took on the “ph."
Avoiding Phishing Scams
Guard Your Personal Information
Identity theft resulting from phishing can be a long and expensive problem to resolve. Why take the risk? Make a personal rule to never give out your personal information over the Internet or via e-mail and text, especially to any person or business you do not know.
If you can't tell whether the e-mail, website, or caller is legitimate, check with the institution itself. Call their main customer service number or walk to a local branch if they have one.
Too Good to Be True
Sometimes phishing scams sound like this: “Dear Sir or Madam, I am the executor of a $500 million estate of which you a potential heir. Please send us your bank account information as soon as possible to obtain your share."
Others sound like: “Congratulations! You have won an iPhone. Send us the following information to claim your gift…."
Do yourself a favor: delete or report these e-mails. These are simply attempts to obtain your personal information.
Sometimes phishing e-mails sound legitimate, but other times they're easy to recognize. Either way, stay vigilant and remember that it's better to be overprotective of your personal information than end up dealing with identity theft.