Email phishing has become one of the most insidious forms of identity theft online. Imagine a cat burglar breaking into your house... disguised as your best friend.
"Phishing" has classically been defined as when a scammer sends out an email with an official looking form, requesting the recepient to fill out their personal information. Often times these forms look like they come from a bank or other financial institution, requesting an update to your files or something like that. It is a sneaky way of getting you to reveal things like Credit Card info, birtdates, and Social Security numbers.
Years ago, people were slow to spot these scams and "phishing" was rampant. In recent years, as internet users have become more savvy, scammers have also become more sophisticated.
These days, you might have received an official looking document requesting personal info. You also might have received en email from a Nigerian prince promising you a cut of his inheritance if you just cover the shipping costs.
Those email scams are pretty obvious. But what if you received an email from your best friend in trouble? Or can you even imagine if you checked your email one day and discovered that you had emailed your entire address book a scam offer?
Sounds crazy, but these are the kinds of current email "phishing" scams attacking internet users these days. And these scams are more effective than older ones because they aren't clearly originating from a scammer.
Imagine one of your best friends was in trouble in foreign country. Wouldn't you drop everything to help them? Scammers know this and have exploited it. The con comes in the from of a distressed email from a trusted friend. The email states that your friend has lost all their money in a foreign country and desperately needs you to wire them some cash so they can get a ticket home, or something like that. The email usually contains a "link" where you can fill out your personal credit info to help them out.
Of course the email was not sent by your friend, it was sent by a scammer.
This begs the question, how did the scammer make it appear that the email was sent by your friend?
The answer is spyware. Spyware is malicious computer code hidden on websites throughout the internet. Sometimes, without any idea it is happening, you will enter a website and the code will install itself through your browser. The program has one simple purpose, to capture your personal email login information and password.
If such a program is installed in your computer, it allows hackers to know your password and thereby send out proxy emails that appear to be from your address. Typically the spammers are able to infilatrate your address book and send out emails to everyone you know.
The emails may contain a message such as the "distressed in a foreign country scam". Or they may be more subtle, saying something like "Hey, how are you? Check out how I lost 35 pounds here" with a malicious link.
Here are some tips to help you stay safe from these kinds of phishing scams.
1. Be vigilant of emails that seem strange or out of character from friends, or from people you haven't heard from in a while
2. Remember that your banking institutions and offical businesses NEVER ask for personal information in emals.
3. If you find that your email account has been hacked, immediately change your password to something completely different than your original one.
4. Download "Spybot: Search and Destroy". It is a free spyware elimination program. Run the software regularly to keep your computer clean.
Be vigiliant, and you can help safeguard your email and your address book from phishing and other online scammers.
Seth Hymes blogs about financial and security issues, ranging from automobile insurance to investments and web security. His blogs, such as California Car Insurance Info, combine humor and insight to make subjects that are usually considered pretty boring, like how to compare car insurance quotes more engaging for readers.