What a phishing scam looks like

Phishing is a term that refers to a person or entity using digital means to acquire another person's information. For instance, someone in South Carolina may receive an email that is supposedly from his or her bank asking to verify account information. When the target of the scam clicks on the link, he or she is directed to a site that looks similar to the one used by a given financial institution.

However, the person has actually been directed to a malicious site where the scammer will be able to see the information that the victim provides. From there, the thief or hacker can then open bank accounts, file tax returns or obtain lines of credit in the victim's name. It is important to note that most banks and credit card companies will never ask a person to provide personal information through email.

While there is no legislation at the federal level specifically related to phishing, authorities can still take action against those who engage in it. Typically, defendants are prosecuted under identity theft and other fraud statutes. California's Anti-Phishing Act of 2005 specifically makes it a crime to use deceptive measures to obtain information from an individual. Several other states also have statutes that specifically address phishing and the penalties a person could face if convicted of the crime.

If a person is charged with a computer crime, it doesn't mean that he or she actually did anything wrong. An attorney may be able to prove that a defendant didn't intentionally take steps to deceive or mislead another person. Legal counsel might also assert that an individual was compelled to commit a crime by another person. This may be enough to help a person avoid jail time through a favorable plea deal or an acquittal.

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