Phishing (pronounced “fishing”) is an electronic scam that attempts to obtain confidential personal or financial information from its target. It takes the form of a fake message, usually an e-mail, which appears to be from a financial institution or service provider. The message usually includes the company name, logo and a link to a website which instructs you to update your account information by providing your Social Security number, bank account number, PIN, password, birth date, etc. with a dire warning if action isn’t taken. A phisher can then use your personal information to commit fraud.
Security vendor Symantec reports there are 7 million phishing-related e-mails sent each day. Like other spam, phishing is often detected by anti-spam software and automatically filtered.
In order to avoid becoming a victim of a phishing scam, you need to know what to look for.
In a typical phishing case, you will receive an e-mail that appears to come from a reputable company such as your financial institution, government agency, or a credit card company. e-mail addresses are harvested from publicly available sources or through randomly generated lists. Phishers send out millions of e-mails at a time hoping to catch the customers of a targeted company by pure chance.
While some e-mails are easily identified as fraudulent, others may appear to come from a legitimate address and trusted online source. Do not rely on the name or e-mail address in the “from” field, as this is easily forged.
The message will describe an urgent reason you must “verify” or “re-submit” personal or confidential information by clicking on a link embedded in the message.
Once inside the fraudulent website, you may be asked to provide Social Security numbers, account numbers, passwords, or other information used to verify your identity such as mother’s maiden name or place of birth.
Fraudulent e-mail may also include links and/or attachments that contain computer viruses and/or keystroke loggers and should not be clicked on or opened.
Other typical phishing scams include fake job offers, bogus prize awards, gift certificate offers, or money laundering schemes.