Stay Away from the 'Phishing' Nets

Though pronounced the same as its watery counterpart, internet "phishing" isn't nearly as benign as going to the river or lake to try to catch a few big fish, but cyberspace phishers do make a practice of also trying to land some great 'catches.' So, what is phishing? Phishing is fraudulent internet activity that attempts to trick email and other web users into taking the "bait" that they offer. The bait is usually designed to mimic an official email from a legitimate company such as your local bank. The email typically asks for verification of your personal or account information because there's a 'problem' with your account, in an attempt to make you more apt to respond. Sometimes it directs you to a website that mimics a legitimate site, and you'll be asked to enter your personal information. But, don't do it; don't take the bait! Don't respond to the emails or click on the website link contained in the email. Even by opening the email it's possible that you may allow some malignant spyware or virus through.

However, just dropping a bit of spyware on your computer to see where you're shopping is downright nice compared to what phishing is ultimately designed to accomplish. Phishers want you to fall for the email, go to the site and enter all your data without another thought. If you do so, you'll have been caught – or, at least, all of the information necessary to steal your identity will have been. Your information could be used directly by the thief, but many phishers gather and sell the information to a personal information broker. This broker then supplies the 'phished,' or stolen, data to individuals who want to use your identity instead of their own.

You can avoid being caught in these internet phishing expeditions by considering a couple of basic rules any time you open an email or consider visiting the link inside:

  • First, remember that reputable institutions don't send emails requesting sensitive information. Call the company that the email is allegedly from and enquire about the message. Tell them that you suspect phishing.
  • Second, keep in mind that these phishers are talented, and have gotten even better as the years have passed. Their emails and sites will probably look exactly like the site that they're mimicking. The only difference is that they'll ask you to provide personal or financial information that reputable companies would verify through other means. Don't be fooled by good looks alone.

Phishing often tends to occur in clusters. You may hear about several fraudulent emails and sites over a period of a few weeks, and then you'll hear of nothing else for several months. That doesn't mean that those engaged in phishing aren't still looking to net your information from their schemes. They're probably just attempting to come up with a more ingenious ploy.

Avoid making things easy by giving away your information to a phisher. If you even suspect a phishing attempt, contact the company directly whose name and identity are being used. The company will thank you for letting them know.

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