Phishing and Pharming for Your Personal and Financial Information


What is phishing (pronounced fishing)? These are scams that are trying to steal your personal and financial information. Phishing has primarily been online in the form of email or pop-up messages but can also occur over the phone or through the mail. Phishers are even using text messages.

Phishers impersonate legitimate financial institutions—banks, credit unions—and businesses. The phishers cast a wide net that's bound to find persons that do business with the impersonated financial institution or company.

Email and pop-up messages may have a link to click or a phone number to call; text messages have included a toll-free phone number to call. In the case of a link, it usually goes to a fake website that mimics a legitimate site.

"Spear-phishing" is a phishing scam that is targeted to a specific, usually small, group. These emails may contain (or seem to contain) personal or confidential information and seem to come from a trusted person such as a boss, friend, or family member.

Here are some tips to avoid being caught by a phishing scam.

  • Reputable companies and financial institutions, like your credit union and bank, NEVER, EVER send e-mails, make phone calls or send letters asking for personal information and account number information they already have on file. Always be suspicious of any request for information that comes from an unsolicited e-mail or phone call. When you initiate the contact (online or by phone) with your bank or a reputable merchant, you may provide information to purchase merchandise or handle your account.
  • If you want to make sure this is a scam or if you think the email, phone call or letter might be genuine, simply call your financial institution, using the number on your statement or that you looked up in the phone book, and ask if they sent the email, letter, or made the phone call.
  • Never include account numbers and passwords in an email message.
  • Never call the phone number in an email or left on your answering machine. Use the phone number listed on a recent statement.
  • Report the scam to the company, using the customer service number or website address from a recent statement. You can send the actual spam to the FTC at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
  • NEVER click on links in these sorts of emails.
  • Never enter personal or financial information in a pop-up window. Some forms of phishing use a pop-up window on a legitimate site.
  • Protect your computers by using a firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware software and spam filters.

Malicious software installed on your computer can also "phish" for your information. The malicious software may monitor a user's keystrokes looking for usernames and passwords for specific sites or the software may misdirect the user (using various techniques) to fake websites or the software may cause the user's information to be sent to a legitimate site but through a computer that can collect the user's information.

Pharming is similar to phishing but much harder to detect. It works like this. Scammers create a fake, malicious website that looks like the site of a real company. Then these criminals "hijack" your browser through malicious software on your computer or Domain Name System (DNS) poisoning and send you to the fake site.

Take steps to protect yourself by using the privacy and security features provided in your browser. You will typically find them under Settings.

For more information

Phishing from the FTC

Free Credit Reports from the FTC

Internet Crime Complaint Center is a partnership between the FBI and National White Collar Crime Center. If you think you've been scammed, you can report it here.

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