Don't Be Phish Bait: How to Avoid Phishing Scams

Learn What Phishing Scams Are, How They Work, and How to Avoid Them

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With newspapers, television, magazines, and the internet full of warnings about phishing scams, it's astonishing that so many people continue to fall victim to the many variations of this high-tech scam. Phishing scams come in many varieties and while they continue to adapt and evolve with changing technology, all phishing scams have one primary aim: to trick you into divulging private information.

To do so, phishing scams use a variety of methods.

The Personal Information Scammers Want

Though identify theft is by far the leading aim of phishing scams, scammers are looking for a variety of important personal information to carry out their plans for fraud. Scammers could be after any information that is valuable, which can include, but is certainly not limited to:

  • credit card numbers
  • bank account information
  • social security number
  • passwords

Scammers will then use this information to steal money or steal your identity, or in some cases, both.

Consequences of Phishing Scams

The consequences of falling for a phishing scam can be disastrous for you legally and financially. Should a scammer get ahold of information needed to rack up credit card debt or steal money from your bank accounts, the financial consequences are obvious. But should a scammer get ahold of your identity, the consequences can far outweigh the financial.

There are stories of victims of identity theft who suffered from false imprisonment, life-threatening false medical records, and other serious concerns. Scammers who seek to steal your identity might do so for many reasons from seeking medical care on your dime to filing false tax returns.

How to Protect Yourself From Phishing Scams

You can protect yourself from becoming phish bait with a little information and a big dose of skepticism.

Phishing usually occurs when you receive an e-mail or pop-up message that claims to be from a legitimate business with whom you have a pre-existing relationship like your credit card company, bank, Internet Service Provider, or another online service like Ebay or PayPal. You may be told that it's critical for you to update or validate your personal information in order to avoid consequences to your account. Ironically, many of these scams lure in their victims using the fear of identity theft: "We suspect an unauthorized transaction on your account. To ensure that your account is not compromised, please confirm your identity."

If you take the bait, you'll be directed to a website that looks legitimate, but isn't. Once at the site, you'll be asked to provide personal information. Don't do it! Legitimate businesses will not approach you in this manner. If you have a question after receiving such an e-mail or pop-up message, call the organization on the telephone and ask if the message was legitimate. Chances are, it wasn't.

Common phishing come-ons include statements and language like:

  • Verify your account...
  • Dear Valued Customer...
  • If you don't respond within 48 hours, your account will be closed...
  • Click the link below to gain access to your account...

Learn to recognize the scammers language and their methods (like pop-up messages and emails). If the message seems out of the ordinary, it probably is.

More Phishing Scam Advice From the FTC

To protect yourself from phishing scams the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers the following advice:

  • Never respond to the type of e-mail or pop-ups mentioned above.
  • Keep your virus protection software up-to-date.
  • Don't send personal or financial information in mails. E-mail is insecure.
  • When entering personal information on a Web site that you initiate a transaction with, make sure the http in the address bar changes to https and the padlock icon appears in your browser window, indicating that the site is secure.
  • Check your credit card statements carefully and report any charges that look suspicious.
  • If you have broadband Internet access, consider adding a firewall to protect your computer.
  • Be very cautious when opening any e-mail attachments.
  • Don't download files you receive in e-mail.

More Common Scams to Avoid

Phishing scams are not the only costly internet scams out there. Educate yourself and check out the article, Don't Fall Victim to These Common Scams.