In our modern day society, almost everyone has access to and frequently uses the Internet. This has resulted in a whole new form of crime which is referred to as Internet identity theft.
What is Phishing?
Phishing is the colloquial term that is used to refer to Internet identity theft. It originates from the word “fishing” as it refers to sending out bait that the victim responds to. The perpetrator then “catches” the victim’s details and likely goes on to make use of them for criminal purposes. Though the technique was already described in detail in 1987 in an International HP user’s group presentation, the first recorded use of the word was in 1996 on alt.online-service.America-online.
Email Phishing Scams and the Human Flaw
The simplest Internet identity theft scam is sent out to unsuspecting potential victims via email. Usually phishers capitalize on an educated human flaw. As educated individuals, our brains have the ability to identify important words or letters and leave out that which is not necessary to deal with. For instance, a number of professionals were tested and the tests revealed that we find it possible to read and understand words which are misspelt or lack vowels.
An email with the subject line “update your details to restore your account” may find its way into your inbox. The brain will immediately flag this as important and get your attention. The email will likely ask you to confirm certain details to prevent your bank account from being frozen for some seemingly legitimate reason.
It is even likely for the email to contain the branding of your specific bank and have a link to their website. The return email address will look genuine and the email may help convince you of its authenticity by providing you with some of your personal information, which was stolen via another form of identity theft. Upon a closer look at the email, it will be revealed that your brain has likely filled in the gaps. The email will have slight errors such as: the return email address has an extra letter, the link to the website has an @ symbol somewhere in it, the information supplied about you is inaccurate. By replying to such an email, you are giving thieves free reign to access your accounts.
Website Phishing Scams
A phishing email may ask you to click on a link that redirects you to a fake website that accurately resembles that of your financial institution. By typing in your username and password, you are handing over access to your accounts to the online criminal.
Other online scams include false links from trusted sites or pop-ups that encourage you to click and access a phony site. Attacks even take place from trusted sites where a technique called cross-site scripting redirects the user from the real site to a counterfeit. This form of phishing is very difficult to detect as everything from the web address to the security certificates are authentic. In reality, Internet identity theft is a real threat and can attack even the most experienced web surfer.
How to Prevent Internet Identity Theft
The very best way to prevent yourself from becoming a victim is by being alert at all times. Be especially wary late at night when you may not have all of your senses working 100%. Before clicking on anything, process what you are doing and make sure it smells right!
Be aware and keep yourself current on all the latest online scams. It is also sensible to keep your computer up-to-date with the latest virus software and spyware. Do not access banking websites from emails, click randomly on pop-ups, or give your personal information to organizations that you do not know and trust. Always ensure that the lock symbol appears in your browser when accessing financial sites and, when in doubt, opt out and try again. Listen to your gut as it is usually right.