Search Engine Phishing

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 What Is Search Engine Phishing?

In general, “phishing” refers to any number of undertakings to obtain an individual’s data. This includes their name, date of birth, social security information, bank account numbers, credit card information, passwords, and other data. Contact is made with the victim through mail or telephone calls in most phishing scams.

Search engine phishing happens through online website search engines. Here, the individual may face offers or messages that lure the individual to visit the website. The search process may be legitimate, but the website is fake and only exists to swipe the individual’s personal information.

What Are Some Examples of Search Engine Phishing?

Search engine phishing schemes can come in several different formats. Some common instances of search engine phishing include:

  • Free/Discount Offers: Here, the website may offer products at highly discounted prices, or it may offer free things, which the entities behind the website do not own and will not send out. To acquire the nonexistent “products,” individuals must provide their confidential information.
  • Job Offers: Fake job offers may be presented, requiring individuals to enter their social security number. These offers may come up in association with job searches online.
  • Emergency Situations: Some websites may try to frighten consumers into delivering data due to an urgent situation. An example of this is a website stating that the individual’s computer has a virus.

Again, the significant thing is that these fraudulent pages exist on legitimate search engine channels, such as Bing and Google. Therefore, you must confirm the legitimacy of a website whenever using search engines on the computer. Search engine phishing scams can result in identity theft in the long run.

What Is Identity Theft?

The U.S. Department of Justice broadly defines “identity theft” as a phrase that applies to all crimes involving acquiring and using someone else’s data through fraud or deception for their financial gain.

For instance, suppose a person saves their credit card details on their computer, to a web browser, or within a pre-filled form on a website. If a hacker acquires access to it and uses it to buy things, it would be deemed an act of identity theft.

Another way identity theft can happen is when someone is not cautious with their data in public. For example, suppose that they give out information over the phone when they are in a public place, such as their credit card or social security number. In that case, a criminal can readily overhear it and write down the details to use later.

As you can see from the above examples, the internet has supplied criminals with many more chances than they had before the technology existed. Therefore, it is essential to use safeguards to protect your offline and online data. Otherwise, you could have a criminal history, fraudulent tax records, and a poor credit score, all because a thief decided to swipe your identity.

How Can Your Identity Be Stolen?

There are multiple ways to steal a person’s identity. Aside from the explicit examples provided above, some more prevalent methods that are used to steal identities include:

  • Robbery: A criminal can physically steal someone else’s data by robbing them of specific items, such as their driver’s license, social security card, debit or credit cards, etc.
  • Computer Fraud: Computer fraud goes beyond standard hacking. This phrase may also apply to deceitful website schemes, deleting sensitive government files, romance scams, and any other online activities, resulting in a person becoming a victim of identity fraud.
  • Social Media: Although this can fall under computer fraud, a criminal can impersonate someone by using their social media, look for clues about the individual that would reveal password hints, find details saved to their social media account, such as a linked bank account, or message their contacts for records or sensitive information.
  • Mail Theft: A criminal can intercept someone’s physical mail to get personal data. Bank statements, credit card statements, and pre-approved credit card offers are all sources of mail that have vital details for thieves.
  • Dumpster Diving: An offender may also dig through a person’s trash to search for personal or financial data. Hence, it is essential to tear up paperwork that displays bank accounts, credit card numbers, handwritten passwords, etc.

How Do Identity Thieves Operate?

Although identity theft can happen to anyone, identity thieves tend to target two primary groups of people: children and the elderly.

Kids are a significant target of identity theft. The reason for this is that they are better candidates for imposter purposes. For example, most kids do not have a credit card, driver’s license, tax record history, or any other identifying info that leaves a trail. As such, offenders can use kids’ information to establish lines of credit, get government IDs like passports or licenses, and take out a mortgage on a home.

Identity thieves can get the kid’s information by asking them for it in person, messaging them online, or having access to them. For example, a parent or guardian who already has the kid’s information in their possession may use it to take out loans or open credit card accounts. Crooks can also pose as authority figures (e.g., school administrators) so that the kid will feel obliged or trust them enough to give them the information.

Who Can Be Held Liable for Identity Theft?

If the individual knows or law enforcement can find the individual liable for the identity theft, they can be sued in criminal and civil court.

If the individual does not know the person or law enforcement cannot find them, there may be other routes for a victim to seek legal action. These parties include:

  • Banks;
  • Credit card companies;
  • Credit bureaus;
  • Merchants who process credit card transactions;
  • Employers; and
  • Most likely, any other business that possessed and may be liable for the stolen info.

Depending on state laws and the circumstances of the case, a person may be able to sue any of these parties based on the following legal theories:

  • Fraud;
  • Breach of fiduciary duty;
  • Negligence;
  • Invasion of privacy;
  • Conversion;
  • Breach of contract;
  • Infliction of emotional distress; and
  • Any other legal theories listed under the state statute.

Can I File a Claim for a Search Engine Phishing Scam?

Search engine phishing scams can cause economic losses for people and business entities. They are also against the law and can lead to criminal penalties, including fines and jail time. You can register a search engine phishing scam to authorities or business bureaus in your city. Such a report can help start an investigation into the apparent fraud. A lawsuit may be filed in some circumstances, particularly for large operations that result in class action suits.

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

If you found out you have given out personal financial data to what later turned out to be a “phisher,” the first thing you should do is reach your bank and credit card companies to let them know and to observe 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 know the extent of the scam.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Search Engine Phishing Laws?

Search engine phishing is a relatively new phenomenon, and the regulations overseeing these crimes will differ from state to state. You may need to hire a fraud lawyer if you file a claim for phishing violations. A qualified lawyer near you can represent you in court and help demonstrate how the laws might affect the outcome of your case.

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