What is Phishing, and How Does It Affect Me?

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Having an anti virus program installed on your computer, is actually essential. Should you be unfortunate enough to become infected, not only will this probably wipe-out important information from your computer (including all your personal stuff), but you also run the risk of distributing this nasty to everyone on your contact list. And then there is Phishing.

What is Phishing?
Phishing scams are usually distributed through emails, and as the name suggests, “phishing” is a form of fishing – for sensitive information stored on your computer, such as information about your credit card, driver’s licence, identity details, etc.

Phishing generally consists of someone sending you an email that is almost identical with those you may receive from your banking institution, or, for that matter from Microsoft, or similar. Usually, on the face of it, as in the actual email you are looking at, there is no way of telling that this is a bogus email – until you click on the link provided. Often these links will take you to a disreputable site, generally something porn, dating site, or viagra related. However, clever phishers have the link take you to a website that also looks like it is from whom the email claimed to be.

You are then informed that there is some problem with your account and could you please log-in and make sure that your information is correct. Sometimes, the call to action may be for you to download a file, under the pretense of needing you to confirm the information. The information you input is then collected and used to gain access to your accounts and private information – without your knowledge.

Why would somebody want your information?
To begin with, if some unscrupulous person has your personal information, such as your account number and password, they are then able to access your assets – by stealing your identity, possibly opening credit accounts in your name (which you are liable for), or using a current credit card and building up enormous debt in your name.

Identity theft can be used to obtain a driver’s license or passport that would display their photo but your name and information. Fraudulent income tax returns could be filed, travel documents, insurance claims filed, let us not forget that your personal details could be used as I.D in criminal activities.

Why are they picking on you?
Well, it’s nothing personal, identity thieves send out thousands of fake emails on a daily basis. Your email address was probably obtained through the use of some software, that scours the internet gathering emails. When sending out these fake emails, the methodology used is that of chance – if you throw enough crap at a wall, sooner or later, some of it will stick. Out of 10,000 emails sent, it only takes one person to be taken in and the criminal may well be rolling in money thereafter – your money.

What clues are there that you have received a bogus email?

Regardless of how official, or genuine an email appears, remember this:

  • Financial institutions, government agencies, etc, will contact you through surface mail, not via email, unless you have requested them to do so.
  • Windows, on your PC, posts updated security patches regularly, through your computer’s in-built update program – microsoft does not send emails, nor do they hold competitions offering thousands of dollars in prize money.

What can you do to prevent phishing scams?

  • Make sure your computer is up to date with security patches from windows.
  • Make sure your  is up to date and set to run on a regular basis.
  • Use a browser such as MozillaFirefox, Internet Explorer 8, or similar. These browsers have anti-phishing devices installed.
  • Most Important:Pay Attention to what you are looking at, or downloading!

Should you be the recipient of one of these bogus emails, maybe informing you of a pending tax refund, are under investigation, or from your financial institution telling you that inexplicably, all your information has been lost – do not go there. Phishing can affect anyone unprepared.

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