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Phishing Attacks: Are You Really At Risk?

Posted on May 10, 2011
You may have seen a news report or read an article warning about the dangers of phishing. Learn how phishing happens, when it may occur and how to protect yourself from phishing scams.

Tags: phishing attacks, phishing scams, phishing protection
When Does Phishing Occur?

Phishing is a scam in which the perpetrator creates a copy of a legitimate business's web page in order to steal personal information from unsuspecting consumers. For instance, you might receive an authentic-looking email with a reply email address that sounds legitimate. The email states that it is from a bank or credit card company and informs you that there is some problem with your account. The email contains a link, instructing you to click on it and log into your account. When you click on the link, your web browser opens to what looks to be the bank or Credit Card Company's login page. Without question or hesitation, you type in the user name and password that you always use to log into your account.

That is when the phishing attack is successful. Although the site to which you have entered your login information appears to be legitimate, it is in fact a counterfeit website. When you type in your personal information, you may see a "Thank you for verifying your information" message, or you may actually be redirected to the legitimate website from which you thought you received the original email message. However, since you entered sensitive information such as your account number, user name or password, the phishers now have access to your account. They may use this information to withdraw money from your account, open new accounts using your name and personal information or even sell sensitive information about you, such as your name address and social security number.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

Fortunately, there are several steps that you can take to protect yourself from this serious threat. Be on your guard whenever you receive an email that requests any type of confirmation or verification of sensitive information, such as a bank account or pin number. Another sign of a phishing email is the lack of identifying information. While your bank or Credit Card Company will likely address you by name, phishing emails are likely to address you as "Valued Customer" or by your email address.

Avoid clicking links from within email messages to confirm or authorize account details. Rather, open your web browser and type in the URL of the website for the account in question. If there is a problem with your account and you log in using this method, you will be made aware of any issues upon signing in.

Use unique user names and passwords for all of your various Internet accounts. Doing so will protect you in the event that a phisher or hacker learns the login details of a single account. If you use the same login information for all of your accounts, the thieves who learned your user name and password can easily get to all of your personal information. Use passwords that consist of a combination of letters, numbers and characters to make it more difficult for perpetrators to decipher.

Phishers may also use pop-up messages to lure you into providing identifying information. Likewise, they often hijack your web browser and redirect you to a phishing page without your realization even when you type in a legitimate web address. This may occur when you try to log into a bank-related account, such as PayPal or your credit card company. It may even occur when you attempt to go to other sites that contain personal information, such as Facebook.

The best way to protect yourself from this type of phishing ruse is to install anti-phishing, anti-virus and anti-spyware programs as well as a spam filter, a pop-up blocker and a firewall. Updating these programs and running them consistently is crucial. You should also keep your web browser up to date. Downloading updates whenever they are available and upgrading your browser when a new version is presented means that you will have the most current anti-phishing blacklist as well as security patches installed.

If you suspect you have been a victim of phishing, contact the affected accounts immediately to report it. Pay close attention to your statements as well as your credit report to watch for signs of identity theft. Consider placing a fraud alert with the credit bureaus as well.

Above all, be mindful, be careful and take steps to protect your computer and your identity from phishing identity thieves.

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