"Phishing" is defined as the act of sending an e-mail to a user falsely claiming to be an established legitimate enterprise in an attempt to scam the user into surrendering private information that will be used for identity theft. The e-mail usually directs the user to visit a Web site where they are asked to update personal information, such as passwords and credit card, social security, and bank account numbers, that the legitimate organization already has. The Web site, however, is bogus and set up only to steal the user's information.

How to Spot A Phishing Scam. At first glance, it may not be obvious to the you that what is in your inbox is not a legitimate e-mail from a company with whom you do business. The "From" field of the e-mail may have the .com address of the company mentioned in the e-mail, and the clickable link may also appear to be taking you to the company's Web site, but will in fact take you to a spoof Web site. Looks can be deceiving, but with phishing scams the e-mail is never from who is appears to be!

Common Phish Sense.

  • If you get an email or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, do not reply or click on the link in the message. Legitimate companies don't ask for this information via email. If you are concerned about your account, contact the organization in the email using a telephone number you know to be genuine, or open a new Internet browser session and type in the company's correct Web address. In any case, don't cut and paste the link in the message.

  • Don't email personal or financial information. Email is not a secure method of transmitting personal information. If you initiate a transaction and want to provide your personal or financial information through an organization's Web site, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser's status bar or a URL for a website that begins "https:" (the "s" stands for "secure"). Unfortunately, no indicator is foolproof; some phishers have forged security icons.

  • Review credit card and bank account statements as soon as you receive them to determine whether there are any unauthorized charges. If your statement is late by more than a couple of days, call your credit card company or bank to confirm your billing address and account balances.

  • Be cautious about opening any attachment or downloading any files from emails you receive, regardless of who sent them.

  • Report suspicious activity to the FTC. If you get spam that is phishing for information, forward it to If you believe you've been scammed, file your complaint at, and then visit the FTC's Identity Theft Web site at to learn how to minimize your risk of damage from ID theft. Visit to learn other ways to avoid email scams and deal with deceptive spam.
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