Phishing, pronounced "fishing," is a social engineering technique thieves use to fish for your personal financial information (account numbers, passwords, Social Security numbers, and other confidential information) that they can use to access your checking account or run up bills on your credit cards.
With the sensitive information obtained from a successful phishing scam, thieves can take out loans and obtain credit cards and driver's licenses in your name. They can do damage to your financial history and personal reputation that can take years to unravel, but if you understand how phishing works and how to protect yourself, you can help stop this crime.
How does phishing work?
- Typically you'll receive an email that appears to come from a reputable company that you recognize and do business with (such as your financial institution, government agency, or a credit card company), but phishing can also occur by phone
- 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
- The provided link appears to be the official website of the company, but in phishing scams the website is actually fraudulent
- The fraudulent website asks you to provide information used to verify your identity such as mother's maiden name or place of birth, Social Security numbers, account numbers and passwords
- Once this information is provided, those perpetrating the fraud can begin to access your accounts or assume your identity
How to protect yourself
- Never provide your personal information in response to an unsolicited request
- If you believe the contact may not be legitimate, contact the financial institution yourself
- Never provide your password over the phone or in response to an unsolicited Internet request
- Review account statements regularly to ensure all charges are correct
- Do not be intimidated by an email or caller who suggests dire consequences if you do not immediately provide or verify financial information
- If you fall victim to attack, act immediately to protect yourself by alerting your financial institution(s) and placing fraud alerts on your credit files
- Report suspicious emails or calls to the Federal Trade Commission by calling 1.877.IDTHEFT