The term phishing (as in fishing for confidential information) refers to a scam that fraudulently obtains and uses an individual's personal or financial information through the use of the internet or another mobile communication device. Here's the typical way that it works:
- An individual receives an email which appears to originate from a financial institution, government agency, or a credible institution or company with which you may do business.
- The message describes an urgent reason that you must "verify" or "re-submit" personal or confidential information by responding in electronic format via a link.
- The link will take you to a website that appears to look like the reputable organization, but it is actually a website that belongs to the scammer or criminal.
- Once you are taken to the fraudulent website, you could be asked to provide certain information such as: driver's license number, account numbers, passwords, social security numbers, date of birth and other confidential information.
- When the individual provides the information, the criminals will then utilize this information to steal your identity by gaining access to personal accounts.
Some of the common "phishing scams" are found in emails that appear to be from someone that you might know, a social networking website, fake websites that accept donations for charities, your instant messaging program and on a cell phone or other mobile device.
Your first level of defense against these scam artists and various other malicious software out there, is to secure your computer by keeping your operating system up-to-date, installing anti-virus software and anti-spyware software. The second level is to be smart and avoid giving any personal information across the internet. If you happen to receive an email that you suspect is a phishing scam, you should contact the real organization immediately and also contact the InternetCrimeComplaintCenter (www.ic3.gov), which is a partnership between the FBI, the NationalWhiteCollarCrimeCenter and the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
Information stolen by hackers can be used to steal your indentity, read Indentity Theft: How To Avoid It to learn ways to safeguard your sensitive information.
The question was answered by Steven Merkel.