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Articles: Phishing, It's in your email not the sea.

During my very first online experience I encountered phishing. It was back in 1991. I had just logged into AOL as a trial member to test my new modem. Before clicking on anything, a message popped up saying that my credit card information had been lost and my account would be terminated if I didn't respond back with the name, number, and expiration date on my credit card.

A few things saved my credit from theft that day. First, I wasn't planning on staying an AOL member, and second I have a healthy level of skepticism.

"Phishing" is the term for communications meant to trick you into sending your personal information. Much like spam, it is mostly found in your email but can come in a variety of forms, even faxes. The principle is simple: pretend to be a reliable and trusted person or company and ask for information that would be useful to steal. In the scenario above the phisher was pretending to be an AOL employee looking to help a new member with the registration process. I had just given AOL my credit card information a few moments ago. So they were not asking for anything unusual, but not anything you would want to give to a stranger. That is the key to not being a victim. Know for sure whom you are giving your information to.

Over the years I have watched my email box for phishing scams as a curiosity. Early on the scams were fairly transparent. Much like the "Nigerian Scam," they required a substantial amount of gullibility or greed on the victim's part. But in the last three years I've witnessed a sophistication that could fool almost any skeptic. The emails look like they come from PayPal, Bank of America, or any other financial institution. They have subjects that might make any customer jump into action. "Your account will be deactivated." "Multiple login Attempts, login to check your account." Anything that will get you motivated to act on this email. Speed is important because they want you to use their link in the email and not use your safe bookmark. The link claims it will take you to the company's website. However, the link in fact takes you to a website that looks identical to your regular login page but is a clone of another website. Once you log in, your information is captured and sent to the criminal who will get full access to your account. What makes this so dangerous is that you only have two clues to tell you that you are about to be taken. First the website address will not be the same as the link indicated. For example is really a sub site of Although it has in its address it is placed after the real address and will take you to However, keep in mind that these criminals get ever more sophisticated, and have learned how disguise the real web address, meaning the true address and their fake one look almost identical.

The second clue is that banks, PayPal, or any financial institution will not ask you to click on a link from an email to enter personal information. They know about phishing and will not ask you to do this.

So how do you keep yourself safe? Each time you give out any information check for positive proof you can trust the site. Is it the proper web address and did you find the site yourself? Is the address https:// or is it the unsecured http://? Were you expecting and not just accepting the request for information

Probably the most important thing you can do is discuss this issue. Phishing depends on catching just one or a few, out of the thousands of people emailed. Just like throwing a net into the sea to catch a few fish. If we can prevent that net catching even one fish they will stop throwing it. Tell your friends and keep safe. Find your inner skeptic, it's good for you.

PowerMax's resident Mac expert, Jacob Loeb, has been using Macintosh computers professionally since 1990. He founded a pioneering Mac based DVD production company and later worked as an IT administrator for several Portland, Oregon companies. Over the last four years Jacob has retained a top Apple Product Professional ranking. As a PowerMax technician he's repaired, trouble shot, and tested every model Mac we sell.
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