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Is phishing the same as fraud?

Knowingly using deception for personal gain is the basis for many different crimes. Phishing is a form of fraud using email. As the name implies, the emails are employed as bait to get someone to give up confidential information like a Social Security number.

Many Wisconsin consumers have learned the hard way not to open emails from unfamiliar sources or click on links in suspicious messages. Urgent or threatening emails, pop-ups and websites linked to them can appear legitimate. Phishing scams say or show whatever will get an email recipient to turn over private information or permit the installation of malicious software.

Public awareness of phishing has reduced the effectiveness of these scams. In response, criminals have shifted how they acquire personal information. According to the Wisconsin Bureau of Consumer Protection, vishing and smishing are first cousins to phishing scams, using phone calls or text messages to carry out the same crime.

The information scammers desire leads to financial bounty supplied by unwitting victims. Bank accounts are raided, credit is abused and, in some cases, new accounts are opened using the identifying information.

Phishing falls under the category of identity theft. Using an electronic device to commit the crime invites other state and federal felony charges. A conviction can mean fines, imprisonment and a life-long criminal history that can ruin prospects for employment, education, credit, benefits and housing.

It's important to note prosecutors must show a defendant willingly deceived another person. A criminal defense attorney may be able to provide evidence that disputes the defendant's intent to harm. When no other options are available, plea bargaining may produce the best result.

A plea deal is an exchange. A defendant's guilty plea is traded for a prosecutor's recommendation of lighter charges or a decreased sentence. The options a defendant has can be reviewed with an attorney before any decisions are made.

Source: Microsoft Safety & Security Center, "How to recognize phishing email messages, links, or phone calls," accessed Aug. 28, 2015

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