How to Avoid Phishing

Learn more about phishing—and how to protect yourself from identity thieves


Identity theft affects millions of individuals each year. And phishing scams are one way fraudsters gain access to your personal information. But what is phishing—and how do you protect yourself?

Phishing scams occur when fraudsters pose as trustworthy sources. They may pretend to be your bank, electric company or anyone else you might trust with personal information. 

Even if a phone call, email or text message seems official, always think twice before sharing sensitive information. Here are a few ways to recognize phishing and monitor your accounts for fraud.

Look for Common Signs of Phishing

As phishing becomes more sophisticated and convincing, it can be tougher to spot. The Federal Trade Commission offers tips on how to recognize and avoid phishing scams. And these are a few red flags to keep an eye out for:

  • If emails or texts sound overly urgent and ask you to respond right away. 
  • If emails or texts use generic titles (Mr., Mrs., Sir or Madam) instead of your legal name.
  • If a caller asks you to validate information with a Social Security number or account number.
  • If emails come from addresses that don’t match the name of the company supposedly sending you the email. Keep in mind, phishing emails may use official logos and headers.
  • If emails or texts invite you to click links to update payment or account information. 
  • If emails or texts contain links asking you to provide information without signing in through the secure site you typically use to access your account. Or if links lead to a site that looks familiar, but the web address is incorrect or has subtle differences.

If you experience any of the above, don’t risk responding directly—and avoid clicking on any links in the email or text you received. If you have questions or concerns, contact the company through its official website or phone number to ask about the suspicious message. 

Review All Bills and Account Statements for Unusual Activity

If you suspect fraudsters have obtained your personal information, you should review all your account statements thoroughly and promptly. Even if you don’t suspect fraud, it’s good practice to make sure you recognize all charges, checks and withdrawals. Identity thieves often start with small transactions, with the hope of going undetected. And if a regular bill doesn’t arrive, call to make sure your mail hasn’t been redirected.

You should report any incidents of suspected identity theft to the relevant financial services provider and/or to local law enforcement.

Check Your Credit Report Regularly

Checking your credit report is another way to monitor for identity theft and fraud. It’s a good idea to check your report at least once a year. 

You can obtain free credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also request reports by calling the Annual Credit Report Service at 1-877-322-8228 or by completing an Annual Credit Report Request Form (PDF). Requesting your reports will not negatively impact your score.

Once you receive your reports, review them for suspicious activity, such as inquiries from companies you didn’t contact, accounts you didn’t open and debts on your accounts you didn’t authorize.

You’ll also want to verify the accuracy of your complete name and Social Security number, address(es), and employer(s). If any information is incorrect, notify the credit bureaus to have it corrected or deleted.

Additionally, you can call the toll-free fraud number of any one of the three nationwide credit bureaus (Equifax®, Experian® and TransUnion®) and place an initial fraud alert on your credit report. An initial fraud alert stays on your credit report for one year and acts as an alert to potential lenders.

These tips can help you avoid phishing and monitor your accounts for fraud. Visit the FTC’s website for more information on preventing identity theft, getting your free annual credit reports and buying additional reports.