What is phishing? You might have asked yourself this question after hearing the term for the first time. The Internet makes it possible to pay bills online, shop, book airline reservations and handle other personal information. While using the Internet for personal matters is convenient, it also opens the door to all sorts of risks. 

Shopping and paying bills online typically involves supplying  a credit card number or bank account number. Banks, credit cards and online merchants handle this information with care, and they have secure servers to deter hackers. But oftentimes, thieves don't have to break into a company's computer system to acquire personal data about users. In some cases, users unknowingly volunteer this information. 

What is Phishing?

Phishing is a term used to describe schemes created to steal or acquire another person's personal information, such as credit card numbers, bank account numbers, debit card numbers and Social Security numbers. In the early days of identity theft, thieves would dumpster dive and steal credit card statements and offers. But with the existence of the Internet and email, thieves can sit back and send mass emails with the hopes of deceiving a percentage of recipients. 

Thieves use different phishing tactics. However, email and fake websites seems to be the most common tactic. They create a website that closely resembles the website of a popular online company, such as PayPal. Next, they send authentic and convincing emails to random recipients informing them to update their personal information. These emails include a link to the fake website. Clicking the link and providing your personal data puts your information in the hands of thieves, and they can use this information to steal your identity and take out loans in your name.

Ways to Protect Yourself From Phishing

Some phishing tactics are obvious and it's easy to ignore these attempts. However, some thieves are skilled. They know how to create professional websites and emails. Protecting yourself from phishing involves always keeping your guard up. Understand that your credit card company, bank or lender will never ask for your personal information via email or telephone. Even if a legitimate company sends an email asking you to update your personal information, they will never include a link in the email.

Thieves are constantly evolving and developing new ways to steal your personal information. Now that you have the answer to -- what is phishing? -- remain alert, keep your guard up and stay abreast to tricks commonly used by thieves.