What is phishing? (and have you been phished)

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  • What is phishing? (and have you been phished)

Phishing is not a new phenomenon. The first signs of phishing are thought to have been in 1995 - over 25 years ago. But what does phishing actually mean?

The literal definition is of a criminal pretending to be someone else in order to gain personal information from the victim, often by email or through phone calls.

You might have heard of the most famous of these scams; a Nigerian Prince is unable to access his millions of dollars in wealth due to unforeseen circumstances and is looking for someone to wire him $5000 in order to retrieve it. That special someone will be rewarded handsomely for their kindness. Except the prize will never see the light of day. And the ‘Nigerian Prince’ has run away with your $5000.

This phishing scam has even become the source of many comedic jokes but the sad reality is that many thousands of people fall for these scams all the time, and often lose their life savings. And this is why phishing has become so widespread, it takes a criminal barely any time at all to set up a fake website, send a few emails and begin to pull in some serious money.

The most common type of phishing scam is where what seems to be a reputable company such as Amazon, PayPal, Apple etc. is asking you to login to your account to do something. And when you click the link it will take you to a website that looks identical to the real thing, however it’s not owned by one of these companies, instead it has been set up by the scammer. Then when you’re there you enter your email and password which the scammer steals. These are extremely prolific scams so please be aware of these.

But the list of phishing scams these days is endless: pretending to be your bank, pretending to be a family member, your password needs resetting, blackmail phishing scams, fake prizes and competitions. It can feel a bit overwhelming and scary if you don’t know what to look for. I will give you two simple pieces of advice.

  1. If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is a scam
  2. Always double check the links you click on.

There is much more to look out for but if you follow these 2 rules closely then you will massively reduce your risk of being phished. I go over these rules in depth in another article on this blog and explain a few more beneficial things you can do to protect yourself even further here - 3 ways to avoid phishing emails.

So if phishing is as simple as sending an email and stealing your password, have you been phished? You’ll never know for sure, but look back at your previous emails and see if anything you read surprised you but you still clicked the link. Or if you were asked to refund, reset, reply urgently to anything that you don’t remember asking about first. If you think you have been phished then you should look to take precautionary measures. Firstly to protect yourself now but also, and importantly, in the future, so that it does not happen again. For a plan of action I strongly recommend you follow our article - What to do if you've been phished