Phishing, Pharming, Vishing, and Smishing


On the Internet, "phishing" refers to criminal activity that attempts to fraudulently obtain sensitive information. There are several ways a fraudster can try to obtain sensitive information such as your National Insurance Number, driver's license, credit card information, or bank account information, often luring you with a sense of urgency. Sometimes a fraudster will first send you a benign email (think of this as the bait) to lure you into a conversation and then follow that up with a phishing email. At other times, the fraudster will just send one phishing email that will direct you to a website requesting you to enter your personal information such as User ID and Password.

Recognizing a fake email

Here are some questions to ask if you think you have received a phishing email.  You can use these same questions if you receive a vishing or smishing message:-

  1. Do you know the sender of the email? If yes, continue to be cautious before clicking a link. If no, do not click any links;
  2. Have you checked the link? Hover your mouse over the link and check the URL. Does it look legitimate or does it look like it will take you to a different website?;
  3. Does the email contain grammatical errors? If so, be suspicious;
  4. Are there any attachments in the email? If so, do not click on the attachment before contacting the sender to verify its contents;
  5. Does the email request personal information?  If so, do not reply;
  6. If you have a relationship with the company, are they addressing you by name?


Pharming is another scam where a fraudster installs malicious code on a personal computer or server. This code then redirects any clicks you make on a website to another fraudulent website without your consent or knowledge. Be especially careful when entering financial information on a website. Look for the ‘s’ in https and the key or lock symbol at the bottom of the browser. If the website looks different than when you last visited, be suspicious and don’t click unless you are absolutely certain the site is secure.


Unfortunately, phishing emails are not the only way people can try to fool you into providing personal information in an effort to steal your identity or commit fraud. Fraudsters also use the phone to solicit your personal information. This telephone version of phishing is sometimes called vishing. Vishing relies on “social engineering” techniques to trick you into providing information that others can use to access and use your important accounts. People can also use this information to assume your identity and open new accounts. 

To avoid being fooled by a vishing attempt:-

  • If you receive an email or phone call requesting you call them and you suspect it might be a fraudulent request, look up the organisation’s customer service number and call that number rather than the number provided in the solicitation email or phone call;
  • Forward the solicitation email to the customer service or security email address of the organisation, asking whether the email is legitimate.

Though vishing and its relative, phishing, are troublesome crimes and sometimes hard to identify. 


Just like phishing, smishing uses mobile phone text messages to lure consumers in. Often the text will contain an URL or phone number. The phone number often has an automated voice response system. And again, just like phishing, the smishing message usually asks for your immediate attention.

Do not respond to smishing messages.