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Fraud Center
Fraud Center


Phishing - pronounced "fishing" - is the latest form of identity theft. It's when thieves act as if they are representing an organization and try to "hook" the consumer into providing personal information. Once the consumer is "hooked", the thieves can do lasting damage to a consumer's financial accounts. They can dupe consumers into providing their Social Security numbers, financial account numbers, PINs, mothers' maiden names and other personal information.

The thieves often pose as a:

  • Financial institution
  • Credit card company
  • Online merchant
  • Utility or other payee
  • Internet service provider
  • Government agency
  • Prospective employer

Phishing is perpetrated by both phone and e-mail, although e-mail is more prevalent.

Here's how it works: Consumers receive an e-mail which appears to be from an organization with which they do business. The e-mail typically includes bogus appeals such as problems with an account or billing errors, and asks the consumer to confirm his/her personal information. Different approaches include things such as "We're updating our records," "We've identified fraudulent activity on your account," or "Valuable account and personal information was lost due to a computer glitch." To encourage people to act immediately, the e-mail usually threatens that the account could be closed or canceled.

Most e-mails ask recipients to follow an embedded link that takes them to an exact replica of the victim company's website. Graphics on the counterfeit site are so convincing that even experts often can have a hard time distinguishing the fake site from the real one.

Despite the convincing appeals, consumers should not respond to unsolicited e-mails that direct them to divulge personal identifying information. Reputable organizations that consumers legitimately do business with generally do not request account numbers or passwords unless the consumer initiated the transaction.


Use these common sense tips to help protect yourself against phishing and other forms of identity theft.

  • Be suspicious if someone contacts you unexpectedly and ask for your personal information. Most legitimate companies do not operate that way and we will never contact you by e-mail to verify personal financial information or PINs.
  • Do not click on links in e-mails that ask you to provide personal information. To check whether an e-mail or call is really from the company, call the company directly or go to its website (use a search engine to find it).
  • Do not provide personal information (such as Social Security number, account numbers, PINs, passwords, and so on) via phone, e-mail or otherwise unless you initiated the contact with the trusted partner.
  • If someone contacts you via phone or e-mail and says you've been a victim of fraud, verify the person's identity, and contact the organization directly before you provide any personal information.
  • If you manage any of your bank accounts online, choose passwords that are difficult for others to guess and use a different password for each of your online relationships. Change the password frequently.
  • Make sure the websites on which you transact business post privacy and security statements. Be sure to review them carefully.
  • Do not send sensitive personal or financial information unless it is encrypted on a secure website. Regular e-mails are not encrypted. Look for the padlock symbol on the bottom bar of the browser to ensure that the site is running in secure mode before you enter sensitive information.
  • Check your monthly statements to verify transactions.
  • Check your credit report twice a year and examine it thoroughly. This will reveal accounts that have been opened without your knowledge.
  • Add a statement to your credit file that prohibits the granting of credit without calling you to confirm the application.
  • Record the names, account numbers and customer service numbers of all cards you carry. This way you will have the necessary information you need if you have to cancel your cards immediately.
  • Make it difficult for thieves to get "identifying information" from your mail or mailbox. Take envelopes containing checks and other sensitive information directly to the post office instead of leaving them in your mailbox.
  • Shred or secure in a lockbox all documents with important identifying information on them, such as bank statements, credit card statements, pre-approved credit card offers and pay stubs.
  • Carry only the credit card you would use in an emergency. Do not carry your Social Security card.
  • Update your personal computer with security patches and install anti-virus software.


Better Business Bureau Consumer Education

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