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Phishing: Frequently asked questions

Phishing: Frequently asked questions

Phishing - general

Phishing (pronounced "fishing") is a type of online identity theft. It uses email and fraudulent websites that are designed to steal your personal data or information such as credit card numbers, passwords, account data, or other information.

Con artists might send millions of fraudulent email messages with links to fraudulent websites that appear to come from websites you trust, like your bank or credit card company, and request that you provide personal information. Criminals can use this information for many different types of fraud, such as to steal money from your account, to open new accounts in your name, or to obtain official documents using your identity.

For more information about phishing scams, see Email and web scams: How to help protect yourself.

If you think you've received a phishing scam, delete the email message. Do not click any links in the message.

Whenever you receive a phone call or see a pop-up window on your PC and feel uncertain whether it is from someone at Microsoft, don’t take the risk. Reach out directly to one of our technical support experts dedicated to helping you at the Microsoft Answer Desk. Or you can simply call us at 1-800-426-9400 or one of our customer service phone numbers for people located around the world.

You can also use Microsoft tools to report a suspected phishing scam.

  • Internet Explorer. While you are on a suspicious site, click the gear icon and then point to Safety. Then click Report Unsafe Website and use the web page that is displayed to report the website.

  • Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail). If you receive a suspicious email message that asks for personal information, click the check box next to the message in your Outlook inbox. Click the arrow next to Junk and then point to Phishing scam.

  • Microsoft Office Outlook 2010 and 2013. Right-click the suspicious message, point to Junk and then click Report Junk.

You can also download the Microsoft Junk E-mail Reporting Add-in for Microsoft Office Outlook.

Take these steps to minimize any damage if you suspect that you've responded to a phishing scam with personal or financial information or entered this information into a fake website.

  • Change the passwords or PINs on all your online accounts that you think could be compromised.

  • Place a fraud alert on your credit reports. Check with your bank or financial advisor if you're not sure how to do this.

  • Contact the bank or the online merchant directly. Do not follow the link in the fraudulent email.

  • If you know of any accounts that were accessed or opened fraudulently, close those accounts.

  • Routinely review your bank and credit card statements monthly for unexplained charges or inquiries that you didn't initiate.

Criminals who send out phishing scams (often called "phishers") send out millions of messages to randomly generated email addresses. They fake or "spoof" popular companies in order to fool the largest number of people.

For more information, see How do spammers get my email address?

Recognize phishing scams

Yes. Phishing scams often use the official logos of the companies they're trying to spoof. If you think an email message is a phishing scam, delete it, or type the web addresses directly into your browser, or use your personal bookmarks.

Not necessarily. Phishing email messages often include official-looking logos from real organizations and other identifying information taken directly from legitimate websites. They might also contain phrases like:

  • "Verify your account."

  • "Update your account."

  • "During regular account maintenance…"

  • "Failure to update your records will result in account suspension."

For more information, see How to recognize phishing email messages or links.

Any email message that requests banking information is probably a phishing scam. Most legitimate banks will not request this information by email.

If you receive a message to an email address that is not the one you use to log in to your bank account, this is probably a phishing scam.

Yes, this is a type of phishing scam known as "advance fee fraud." To learn more, see What is the Microsoft lottery scam?

Prevent ID theft from phishing scams

You can do the following to help protect yourself from phishing scams:

  • Don't click links in email messages.

  • Type addresses directly into your browser or use your personal bookmarks.

  • Check the site's security certificate before you enter personal or financial information into a website.

  • Don't enter personal or financial information into pop-up windows.

  • Keep your computer software current with the latest security updates.

Most Microsoft email programs come with built-in anti-phishing detection. This detection helps prevent fraudulent email messages from reaching you in the first place.

Anti-phishing detection automatically deletes the email message or moves it to the junk folder depending on the degree of probability that it is a fraudulent message. If a message is moved to the junk folder, your email program notifies you of the threat.

The following email programs include anti-phishing detection:

Internet Explorer includes SmartScreen, which can help protect you from web fraud and personal data theft.

Smartscreen

Windows SmartScreen is a feature of Internet Explorer 7, 8, 9, and 10. It's designed to help protect you from fraudulent websites that try to steal your personal information.

While you surf the Internet, SmartScreen analyzes pages and determines if they have any characteristics that might be suspicious. If it finds suspicious web pages, it shows a yellow warning and advises you to proceed with caution. If the site matches an updated list of reported phishing sites, SmartScreen notifies you with a red flag that it has blocked the site for your safety.

To learn more, see Security in Internet Explorer 10.

A suspicious website has some of the typical characteristics of phishing websites, but it is not on the list of reported phishing websites. The website might be legitimate, but you should be cautious about entering any personal or financial information unless you are certain that the site is trustworthy.

To learn more, see SmartScreen Filter FAQ.

A reported phishing website has been confirmed by reputable sources as fraudulent and has been reported to Microsoft. We recommend that you do not give any information to such websites.