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Phishing, which is short for “phishing attack,” is a type of cyberattack that uses email as a weapon. Attackers send emails that appear to be from legitimate sources (like a bank, a company or an acquaintance) and try to trick the victim into clicking a link or downloading a file.

The goal of phishing is to trick the victim into providing sensitive information like account credentials or passwords. This can provide all the ammunition fraudsters need to ransack personal and work accounts for valuable data. It’s not uncommon for phishing attacks to result in several data breaches on one target, with attackers then using stolen credentials for online banking or social media to make fraudulent transactions.

Many early phishing attacks were easy to spot, but as the Internet grew more popular, phishers evolved their methods to become increasingly sophisticated. Attackers can now mimic a corporate brand, use spoofing to disguise the email address or website domain and even incorporate fake padlock icons to imply that the site is secure. They also employ AI voice generators to portray the victim’s manager, family member or coworker on a phone call.

The best defense against phishing is to be skeptical of any unsolicited request for your financial information, whether via email or phone. If you’re ever unsure, contact the person or company directly on a different channel and ask if they sent the message. You should also review your account statements regularly and monitor credit files for suspicious activity.