Spoofing and Phishing
Spoofing is when someone disguises an email address, sender name, phone number, or website URL—often just by changing one letter, symbol, or number—to convince you that you are interacting with a trusted source.
For example, you might receive an email that looks like it’s from your boss, a company you’ve done business with, or even from someone in your family—but it actually isn’t.
Criminals count on being able to manipulate you into believing that these spoofed communications are real, which can lead you to download malicious software, send money, or disclose personal, financial, or other sensitive information.
Phishing schemes often use spoofing techniques to lure you in and get you to take the bait. These scams are designed to trick you into giving information to criminals that they shouldn’t have access to.
In a phishing scam, you might receive an email that appears to be from a legitimate business and is asking you to update or verify your personal information by replying to the email or visiting a website. The web address might look similar to one you’ve used before. The email may be convincing enough to get you to take the action requested.
But once you click on that link, you’re sent to a spoofed website that might look nearly identical to the real thing—like your bank or credit card site—and asked to enter sensitive information like passwords, credit card numbers, banking PINs, etc. These fake websites are used solely to steal your information.
Phishing has evolved and now has several variations that use similar techniques:
- Vishing scams happen over the phone, voice email, or VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) calls.
- Smishing scams happen through SMS (text) messages.
- Pharming scams happen when malicious code is installed on your computer to redirect you to fake websites.
Spoofing and phishing are key parts of business email compromise scams.
How to Report
To report spoofing or phishing attempts—or to report that you've been a victim—file a complaint with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
How to Protect Yourself
- Remember that companies generally don’t contact you to ask for your username or password.
- Don’t click on anything in an unsolicited email or text message. Look up the company’s phone number on your own (don’t use the one a potential scammer is providing), and call the company to ask if the request is legitimate.
- Carefully examine the email address, URL, and spelling used in any correspondence. Scammers use slight differences to trick your eye and gain your trust.
- Be careful what you download. Never open an email attachment from someone you don’t know and be wary of email attachments forwarded to you.
- Set up two-factor (or multi-factor) authentication on any account that allows it, and never disable it.
- Be careful with what information you share online or on social media. By openly sharing things like pet names, schools you attended, family members, and your birthday, you can give a scammer all the information they need to guess your password or answer your security questions.
Public Service Announcements from IC3
03.20.2020 FBI Sees Rise in Fraud Schemes Related to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic
Scammers are leveraging the COVID-19 pandemic to steal your money, your personal information, or both. Don’t let them.
06.10.2019 Cyber Actors Exploit 'Secure' Websites in Phishing Campaigns
Cyber criminals are conducting phishing schemes to acquire sensitive logins or other information by luring victims to a malicious website that looks secure.
09.18.2018 Cybercriminals Utilize Social Engineering Techniques to Obtain Employee Credentials to Conduct Payroll Diversion
Cybercriminals are targeting online payroll accounts of employees through phishing emails designed to capture an employee’s login credentials.
02.21.2018 Increase in W-2 Phishing Campaigns
Beginning in January 2017, IRS’s Online Fraud Detection & Prevention, which monitors for suspected IRS-related phishing emails, observed an increase in reports of compromised or spoofed emails requesting W-2 information.
Related FBI News and Multimedia
Individuals Spoofing Law Enforcement Phone Numbers to Scam Victims
The FBI Atlanta Field Office is warning the public about a phone scam where individuals are posing as university or college law enforcement officials.
FBI Pittsburgh Warns Public About Telephone Spoofing Scam Portraying FBI Phone Number
The FBI Pittsburgh Field Office is cautioning Western PA residents about a telephone spoofing campaign where the caller is portraying themselves as a special agent.
USAO-Kansas City Warns Public About Spoofing Scams
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Kansas is warning the public about phone scams in which callers fraudulently display themselves as having numbers belonging to government agencies.
South Jersey Residents Targeted in Latest Iteration of 'FBI' Phone Scam
The FBI Philadelphia Field Office is warning the public of a phone scam that spoofs, or fakes, the FBI’s name and real telephone number on the recipient’s caller ID.
Ex-Wall Street Trader Convicted of Fraud in Precious Metals Spoofing Scheme
Christopher Jordan, a former trader at JPMorgan Chase and Credit Suisse, was convicted of fraud in connection with a spoofing scheme in the gold and silver futures markets.
FBI Cleveland Cautions About Telephone Spoofing Portraying Law Enforcement
The Cleveland Division of the FBI is cautioning northern Ohio residents about a telephone spoofing campaign.
FBI Honolulu Launches Cybersecurity Awareness Campaign
The FBI Honolulu Field Office has launched a cybersecurity awareness campaign to educate private sector businesses and organizations about the growing threat of cyberattacks.
Former J.P. Morgan Traders Convicted of Fraud, Attempted Price Manipulation, and Spoofing in a Multi-Year Market Manipulation Scheme
A federal jury in the Northern District of Illinois convicted two former precious metals traders at JPMorgan Chase & Co. of fraud and other related offenses.
U.S. Marshals, FBI Urge Public to Report Phone Scams
The U.S. Marshals and the FBI are alerting the public of several nationwide imposter scams involving individuals claiming to be U.S. marshals, court officers, or other law enforcement officials.
Oregon FBI Tech Tuesday: Building a Digital Defense Against SMiShing
The Oregon FBI’s Tech Tuesday segment is providing information on building a digital defense against SMiShing.