Since its birth, the Internet has grown and expanded to unprecedented, unmanageable proportions. Information, software, news, and much more flow freely through its twisted pathways. Online services such as Internet banking save time and money. However, from the depths of its vast expanse have come the dregs of society intent on preying on the new, the na?ve, and the less informed.
Phishing is one of the main scams in the present moment. People set up phoney websites and email addresses. Then they spam Email inboxes with official-looking messages explaining that your account with Company X has encountered a problem and that they need you to login and confirm some details. The email addresses are masked to appear official and the links provided in the email all seem to check out. If you click on the link provided then you will usually be taken to a site that looks for all intents and purposes to be official. When you click 'submit' your details will be sent to a criminal somewhere who will do as they please with your information, such as withdrawing money from a bank account or purchasing things in your name.
The scam has been labelled 'Phishing' because the criminals engaging in the activity behave similarly to a fisherman throwing bait out in the hope that they'll receive just one bite from the millions of people that receive the email.
So how do you avoid these online scams? First and foremost, it is important to realise that no legitimate organisation should be sending you a request to fill out your personal details because of some server error or for any other reason. Your bank will never send you an email with content along the lines of "We've lost your bank account number and password... please supply them again for our records". You should also know that no bank is going to require your social security number, bank account number, and PIN number just to log in to your account or retrieve your password. Other sites such as Ebay, PayPal, and the like will not email you asking for these details either.
If you're a little unsure as to whether or not an email is official, scroll down a bit until you find the link that they are requesting you to click and simply hold your mouse pointer over the link text without clicking. Now take a look at the bottom left-hand corner of your browser window. The link text is often the address that the phisher wants you to think you will be heading to but the real address will be revealed in the bottom of the browser. This address will most likely not have anything whatsoever to do with the company that the email is attempting to imitate. It could be a dodgy web site or even just a page on someone's personal computer. If the address doesn't appear in the bottom left-hand corner then you can right-click on the link, select 'properties' from the pop-up menu and then read the address listed in the information box.
To avoid further scams make sure that you have updated firewall and anti-virus software active on your system at all times. This will make it harder for anyone to install key loggers, Trojans, spyware, or other similar devices intended to retrieve your information. Keep your operating system up to date with the latest security patches and updates and be careful where you enter your details. Always look into the reputability of the site that is requesting your details and keep an eye on the lower right-hand corner of your browser. If the page you are viewing has a little padlock symbol appear in the corner, then it means that your details are being secured by some encryption method. You can double click on the icon to get more details if you wish. Sites without the padlock icon don't have encryption, which means that your details are a lot easier for malicious crooks to get a hold of.
Even if you're sure the website is legitimate, it's not a good idea to send your details over an unsecured connection. By the way, email does not count as a secure connection, and neither does any instant messaging program, (such as MSN, ICQ, Yahoo Messenger, AIM etc.) so don't give out personal details that way either.
Another common scam very similar to phishing involves the emailing of promises of great wealth. Seriously, what do you think your chances are of winning the lottery, let alone one that you never even entered? Or of some obscure yet ridiculously rich person in Africa dying and you being legally allowed to pick up their money? Or of a foreign prince wishing to smuggle money out of his country using your account? These emails are all scams. I wish it were true that I won three different lotteries every single day, but if you get in contact with the people sending these messages they're going to do their utmost to clean out your pockets. Unfortunate as it may sound, the 'Please Donate to Charity' emails sent are usually also scams.
If you really want to donate money to a charity, look them up and send it the usual way, don't respond to a multi-recipient email that may or may not be real. You also shouldn't donate to some random charity that no one has ever heard of before. Some of the Internet lowlifes have started up fake charities, 'dedicated to helping Tsunami victims' or similar and are simply pocketing the donations.
Everything in this world can be used for either good or evil purposes and the Internet is no exception. Staying alert and having just a little bit of Internet know-how can keep you out of harm's way for the majority of the time, and allow you access to the wonderful online services available with relative safety.