Phishing is a scam by which an unsuspecting victim voluntarily gives some type of personal or financial information to what they think is an official institution the victim already has some type of connection with.

An example would the mass emailing that took place in 2003. An email was circulated to a huge number of people that claimed to have originated from E-bay, and informed the reader that their account would be cancelled if they did not click on a link within the email and confirm some information. When the reader clicked on the link they were taken to what seemed to be an official E-bay page that asked the reader to update their credit card information.

In reality it turned out that neither the website nor the email was authored by E-bay, but was sent by a scammer who used it to collect credit card information. While not all those who received the email fell for the bait, many of those who received it already had an E-bay account and thought it was legitimate email from E-bay.

So How Do I Avoid Falling Victim to These “Phishing” Scams?

Here are some suggestions that will help you avoid falling for this scam: 

  • Legitimate companies will never ask you for sensitive financial information via an e-mail, so if you get e-mail asking you to do so (even if it looks like it is legitimate), disregard it. Instead, you may want to check the company’s official website or e-mail them or call them at an address or phone number you know actually belongs to the company.
  • While you are at it, do not send any confidential financial information via e-mail. E-mail is not a secure source, and instead you should give that information through a secure website (like one whose address begins with"https" instead of just "https"). Even then, be cautious about what information you are giving away and do not give away any private financial information unless it is absolutely necessary.
  • Install anti-virus software on your computer and keep it updated.  Sometimes "phishers" send software with their emails that either harm your computer or track where you go on the Internet without your knowledge.

What Should I Do If I Have Fallen Victim to a “Phisher”?

If you found out you have given out private financial information to what later turned out to be a "phisher," the first thing you should do is contact your bank and credit card companies to inform let them know and to monitor any transactions made on the card or account the phisher has access to. You may also want to file a complaint with the FTC so they are aware of the extent of the scam.

In addition, if the identity of the "phisher" is found out, you may want to consult a criminal lawyer. Your attorney can let you know if you may be entitled to any money damages in a lawsuit against the "phisher".