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Phishing is a cyber-attack that uses genuine-looking email lures to trick recipients into carrying out harmful instructions such as clicking links, opening attachments and providing sensitive information. These instructions can be used to steal login credentials, hijack bank accounts and run up bills or even obtain credit cards and driver’s licenses in the victim’s name – a form of identity theft.

While phishing has been around for decades, it is a much more sophisticated attack now than ever before. The emergence of mobile messaging services like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, as well as social media platforms such as Twitter, has given attackers a new way to reach potential victims. Attackers can now use these platforms to distribute malware and phishing attacks in the form of malicious links or embedded messages.

Some phishing scams are designed to steal personal information, for example by pretending to be from trusted organisations and government departments. The attackers then take this data and use it for their own gain, such as by applying for credit cards in the victim’s name or submitting fraudulent tax claims or insurance claim forms.

Other phishing scams target specific individuals. This is done by posing as someone the victim knows or using photos ripped from the internet, stock imagery or their public profile on social media. These scams typically try to trick the victim into handing over their login credentials or payment information, for example by claiming that their direct deposit hasn’t arrived and directing them to a fake website.