Spyware and Phishing Scams

Three emerging internet threats include spyware, phishing scams and key logging. All of these techniques can be used by computer hackers to obtain your personal information. Hackers can use these types of technology to obtain your credit card numbers, read your personal e-mail, track every web page you visit, or even steal your identity. It is very important to be aware of these threats and to learn to respond appropriately. Use the information on this page to help protect your information assets from these common problems.


What is Spyware?

Spyware, also called adware, is software that is hidden on your computer that gathers personal information about you and your Internet use habits. The software then relays it to advertisers, marketing groups and others who use the information to target you with pop-up ads.


How Does Spyware Affect My Computer?

Spyware is somewhat similar to a computer virus because it can affect your computer in the following ways. It can cause:


  • Computer instability; your operating system slows down or hangs up.
  • Conflicts between different software programs.
  • Dramatic slow network performance.
  • Advertising popups, including pornography.
  • New toolbars to appear in your Web browser.
  • Your browser to open to a different homepage.

How Did I Get It?

Spyware is usually installed without your knowledge when you install a legitimate software package. Sometimes the fine print of the license agreement includes the information about the spyware component but not always. For example when installing certain freeware software like weather monitoring software, or peer-to-peer software like KaZaa you will also install up to six spyware applications on your system.


How Can I Get Rid of It?

Spyware is hidden so it is difficult to recognize and remove. Spyware programs run in the background and consume significant amount of memory and cpu speed. Thus the applications you need to use do not perform at their best.

There are two free programs you can use to scan your system for spyware. Spybot and AdAware. AdAware is available at CNET.


Tips for Avoiding Spyware

  • Investigate software before installing it.
  • Make sure to read the license agreement carefully. Visit OptOut for an example of why reading the fine print is important!
  • Search the Internet for information and reviews about the software and see if anyone has reported spyware problems.


What are Phishing Scams?

Phishing scams are a relatively new form of Internet fraud that are becoming increasingly prevalant. This high-tech scam uses spam or pop-up messages to trick users into disclosing credit card numbers, bank account information, Social Security number or other confidential information.


How do Phishing Scams Work?

Phishers send an e-mail or pop-up message that claims to be from a business or organization that you might deal with - for instance, your Internet Service Provider (ISP), online payment services or bank. Often, this e-mail or pop-up window is very official looking and might even contain a corporate logo. The message usually indicates the need to "update" or "validate" your account information. It then directs you to a Web site that looks just like a legitimate organization's site, but it isn't. When you visit the Web site, it requests personal information that the operators then use to steal your identity or commit crimes in your name.

 Phishing Video

How Can I Avoid a Phishing Scam?

  • If you receive an e-mail or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, don't reply or click on the link in the message. If you are concerned about your account, contact the organization in the email using a telephone number that you know to be legitimate.
  • Don't send personal or financial information via e-mail.
  • Review your credit card and bank account statements often to determine whether there are any unauthorized charges.
  • Use anti-virus software and keep it up-to-date. Some phishing e-mails can contain software will harm your computer. Additionally, this software can track your Internet browsing habits without your knowledge. Up-to-date anti-virus software can help protect your computer from inadvertently accepting these types of files. 
  • Be cautious about opening any attachment or downloading any files from e-mail you receive, regardless of who sent them.
  • If you believe you've been a victim of a phishing scam, file a complaint at www.ftc.gov, and then visit the FTC's Identity Theft Web site to learn how to minimize your risk of damage from ID theft.

For more information, visit the Anti-Phishing Working Group Web site.