Phishing is a very sneaky type of fraud conducted over the Internet. Its name is a throw back to the early days of hacking and identity theft and the practice of phone phreaking. While there can be very complicated schemes devised, they are all based on a very simple concept.
Phishers try to persuade you, or trick you into giving them sensitive information which they can then use to make money out of the system. For example, one very attractive target for phishers would be your paypal account. Paypal is an online payment system that allows you to put money in your account with your credit or debit card, and then basically email the money to other people’s paypal accounts. It is very simple, cheap and fast and very popular for online shoppers as they do not have to give their credit card details away over the internet.
If you wanted to take money out of other people’s paypal accounts, all you would really need is their email address and password. Then you sign in to their account, and send the money to an account you have set up.
What phishers will do is email paypal customers with an email that looks like an official email from paypal. It will have the paypal logo and format and will look exactly like official paypal emails to customers. It may even come from an address that looks like paypal’s official website. It will go on to say it is a random security check or some other technical procedure and that you are required to type in your user name and password. It will then thank you and say the check or whatever other scheme it claims to be is complete. In the meantime, the phisher will have your password and can clear out your account.
While this is a basic example, there are countless variations of increasing complexity that will be used to try and entice customers to give out bank account details, credit card details or other sensitive information. It can often be next to impossible for the average customer to detect that the email or website is not the official one of the company it is supposed to be from and they are therefore very dangerous.
If you do suspect that an email you receive is a phishing attempt then notify the appropriate company immediately. The other thing to remember is that most banks, credit card companies and other institutions now inform their customers that they will never ask their customers for their passwords in an email, nor will any of their employees ever ask for a password and therefore never give it to anyone who asks you for it.