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Internet Safety 101: Phishing

For many of us, the Internet and e-mail have become an important part of our lives. The Internet has helped make many important tasks much easier, such as shopping, filing taxes, and communicating with banking institutions. Because these tasks require that users give out sensitive information, it is important to be aware of the risks. One of the major risks out there is known as phishing.

The term “phishing” describes any kind of disguised attempt to trick people into revealing sensitive, private information. This information can be used to hijack user accounts, to defraud users, and even for the purposes of identity theft.

Phishing schemes can come in many different forms. Some common techniques used include fake e-mails, instant messages, phone calls, and online applications. These attempts are cleverly engineered to look legitimate, usually by posing as someone from a trusted source – such as a bank, credit card company, Internet service provider, retail store, and even a charity.

Phishers will often ask you to reveal sensitive information, such as:

  • user names and passwords
  • bank account or credit card information
  • Social Security Number
To ensure that you don’t get fooled by a phishing scheme, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • NEVER give out sensitive financial information out over e-mail – e-mail is not a very secure means of communication. Submitting information via telephone or a secure web server is much safer, provided that you are speaking with a legitimate agent or using a legitimate web server. When in doubt, always be cautious and do not give out any private information.
  • NEVER open attachments to e-mails that you are not expecting – attachments are often used to hide viruses or spyware that can hijack your computer. If you know the person that sent the e-mail, please ask them if they sent the attachment, and what it is.
  • Most companies will not ask for financial information over e-mail. If you receive an e-mail that you are unsure about, do not click on any links provided in the e-mail – these links often send you to fake websites that can put your privacy at risk. Instead, visit that company’s main website or call a customer service representative to find out more information.
  • Keep your computer virus-free by running up-to-date antivirus software. If you do not have antivirus software on your computer, you can scan your computer for free by clicking on the following link:

  • It is also very helpful to run a spyware-detection program (similar to antivirus software) to ensure that none of your personal data is at risk – Ad-Aware Personal from is a great free spyware-removal tool.
For more information on “phishing,” please visit:


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