Internet Safety Tips: Combat Spam, Spyware and Phishing


Phishing refers to impersonation of a trusted person or organization in order to steal a person's personal information, generally for the purpose of identity theft. For example, an email message may appear to be from a well-known bank asking recipients to visit a website to confirm their account details, but the website is actually controlled by a hostile party.

Phish & Tips Animation

Statistics on Phishing

(Last updated: March 2007)

  • Phishing attacks now affect roughly one in four Americans (23%) each month. (2005 AOL/NCSA Online Safety Study)

  • The total number of unique phishing reports submitted to the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG) in December 2006 was 23787 - a decrease of over 2000 attacks from November. (APWG Phishing Activity Trends, Report for December 2006)

  • In December 2006, Websense Security Labs established a list of countries hosting phishing websites. Canada came in at fifth place with 3.06%. (APWG Phishing Activity Trends, Report for December 2006)

Possible Indications of a Phishing Scam

According to, the following features are often indicators of a phishing scam:

  • Someone contacts you unexpectedly and asks for your personal information such as your financial institution account number, an account password or PIN, credit card number, or Social Security number. Legitimate companies and agencies don't operate that way.

  • The sender, who is a supposed representative of a company you do business with, asks you to confirm that you have a relationship with the company. This information is on record with the real company.

  • You are warned that your account will be shut down unless you "reconfirm" your financial information.

  • Links in an e-mail you receive ask you to provide personal information. To check whether an e-mail or call is really from the company or agency, call it directly or go to the company's website (use a search engine to find it).

  • You are a job seeker who is contacted by someone claiming to be a prospective employer who wants your personal information.

Phishing Samples

The following are sample e-mails taken from the website:

Sample E-mails:

Sample Phishing Email.  Does not address you by name and contains spelling errors

Sample phishing Email.  Does not address you by name.  Your financial institution would never request this, as they aleady have your information

Sample phishing email.  Does not address you by name.  Threatens actions unless you respond.

Tips to Avoid Being Reeled In by a

OnGuard Online offers the following tips:

  • If you get an email or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, do not reply. And don't click on the link in the message, either. Legitimate companies don't ask for this information via email. If you are concerned about your account, contact the organization mentioned in the email using a telephone number you know to be genuine, or open a new Internet browser session and type in the company's correct Web address yourself. In any case, don't cut and paste the link from the message into your Internet browser - phishers can make links look like they go to one place, but that actually send you to a different site.

  • Use anti-virus software and a firewall, and keep them up-to-date. Some phishing emails contain software that can harm your computer or track your activities on the Internet without your knowledge.

  • Anti-virus software and a firewall can protect you from inadvertently accepting such unwanted files. Anti-virus software scans incoming communications for troublesome files. Look for anti-virus software that recognizes current viruses as well as older ones; that can effectively reverse the damage; and that updates automatically.

  • A firewall helps make you invisible on the Internet and blocks all communications from unauthorized sources. It's especially important to run a firewall if you have a broadband connection. Operating systems (like Windows or Linux) or browsers (like Internet Explorer or Netscape) also may offer free software "patches" to close holes in the system that hackers or phishers could exploit.

  • Don't email personal or financial information. Email is not a secure method of transmitting personal information. If you initiate a transaction and want to provide your personal or financial information through an organization's website, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser's status bar or a URL for a website that begins "https:" (the "s" stands for "secure"). Unfortunately, no indicator is foolproof; some phishers have forged security icons.

  • Review credit card and bank account statements as soon as you receive them to check for unauthorized charges. If your statement is late by more than a couple of days, call your credit card company or bank to confirm your billing address and account balances.

  • Be cautious about opening any attachment or downloading any files from emails you receive, regardless of who sent them. These files can contain viruses or other software that can weaken your computer's security.

Reporting Phishing
  • Report phishing emails to The Anti-Phishing Working Group, which consists of Internet service providers (ISPs), security vendors, financial institutions and law enforcement agencies, uses these reports to fight phishing. Please note that when reporting such emails, always forward the entire original email with its original header information intact.