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Phishing - the latest scam on the Internet

This is a fraudulent practice which leaves innocent scams like spyware or adware far behind. The best way to combat phishing is to be informed of its existence and know how it works. Phishing refers to criminal activities that imitate e-mails, web sites, telephone calls or other means of communication used by legitimate companies. It functions by inviting its users to divulge sensitive personal information such as passwords, user names and account numbers. Once the criminals obtain this data, they can ruin users.

The way these criminal minds operate this scam is similar to that of a fisherman who throws a line hoping that a fish will bite it. In other words, they send massive amounts of e-mails pretending to be a well-known company, in most cases, institutions related to banking or credit cards. Then, they just wait until someone bites the bait.

The term ‘phishing’ is a word pun coined by hackers, whereby the “f” in fishing (which means “salir de pesca” in Spanish) is replaced by “ph”. This scam dates from 1960, when the hacker community baptised it with the name of ‘phone phreaks’, a fraudulent crime consisting of imitating legitimate users via the telephone.

Biting the bait

The e-mails sent by cyber delinquents look like official messages and inform users of the need to update their personal data or accounts. On some occasions the same e-mail contains a small form and users are asked to enter their financial data.

On other occasions, delinquents insert a link to a fake Web site created by them and almost identical to the institution being used as bait so that users will trust them.

Once there, clients are asked to insert, just like they have done before on the real web site, data such as passwords, credit card numbers… This is the moment when all is lost. Their data is now in the hands of people who will use it for illegal purposes.

Scam exceeds 500,000 € in Spain

Phishing has also reached Spain. The most famous case appeared in the mass media in May this year. The Civil Guards, in what was called Operation Phishing, disarticulated a network with connections in the U.S.A., the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and Russia that had swindled over 500,000 € via the Internet.

Six people were arrested during the operation: three Russians, two Estonians and one from the Dominican Republic. The investigation was initiated after receiving an official complaint from a banking institution as it was faced with the start of an indiscriminate campaign which consisted of sending e-mails to e-banking clients and trying to con them.

The most infallible way to prevent phishing, as well as the many other threats on the Network, is to be informed of its existence, as there are no programmes that can totally eliminate it. Besides, bear in mind that financial institutions inform their clients that they will never ask them to divulge personal information through these means, via e-mail or by telephone.

McAfee recommends automatically blocking malicious or fraudulent e-mails; anti-spam software can help filter unwanted mail. He also advises to delete malicious programmes, such as Spyware automatically and likewise, block the sending of important information to third parties for malicious ends.

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