Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Phishing and Other Internet Scams

Scammers commonly use the internet to commit fraud through unsolicited emails. They can easily copy the logo or even the entire website of a legitimate organization in an attempt to lure you into providing personal information or downloading malicious software.

A majority of internet scams are considered to be “phishing scams.” Phishing scams typically occur when scammers falsify their identity, usually by claiming to represent a legitimate corporation or government agency. They try to entice you into revealing your personal information such as your bank account numbers, Social Security number, passwords or other sensitive data.

If an email is requesting that you select a link to a website in order to “update” or “confirm” your account information, be skeptical and contact the organization directly to verify the legitimacy of the request. Selecting a link contained in an unsolicited email can install malware and spyware onto your computer, allowing scammers to gain access to files stored on your computer, as well as to personal information and account passwords.

Protect Yourself from Internet Scams

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation's consumer protection agency, offers these tips:

  • Don't open the link.
    If you get an email or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, do not reply or open the link in the message. Legitimate companies don't ask for this information via email. 
  • Don't email personal or financial information.
    Email is not a secure method of transmitting personal information. If you initiate a transaction and want to provide your personal or financial information through an organization's website, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser's status bar or a web address that begins "https:" (the "s" stands for secure). Unfortunately, no indicator is foolproof; some phishers have forged security icons. 
  • Be aware.
    Review credit card and bank account statements as soon as you receive them to determine whether there are any unauthorized charges. If your statement is late by more than a couple of days, call your credit card company or bank to confirm your billing address and account balances.
  • Be protected. 
    Use anti-virus software and keep it up to date. Some phishing emails contain software that can harm your computer or track your activities on the internet without your knowledge. Anti-virus software and a firewall can protect you from inadvertently accepting such unwanted files. Anti-virus software scans incoming communications for troublesome files. Look for anti-virus software that recognizes current viruses as well as older ones, that can effectively reverse the damage, and that updates automatically. A firewall helps make you invisible on the internet and blocks all communications from unauthorized sources. It's especially important to run a firewall if you have a broadband connection. Finally, your operating system (like Windows or Linux) may offer free software “patches” to close holes in the system that hackers or phishers could exploit.

What to Do If You Think You've Been Scammed

If you have recently shared your credit card or bank account information in response to an unsolicited email, you should notify your credit card company or bank immediately and discuss whether you should cancel your accounts. Carefully monitor your accounts. If you provided your Social Security number, you should contact one of the three national consumer reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian or TransUnion, to ask that a fraud alert be placed on your accounts and obtain copies of your credit reports. You should also visit the FTC's identity theft website to file a complaint.