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.

Stock image depicting a hand holding a smartphone with Phishing written on the screen and the user pushing Send.

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

  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

  • 06.09.2021

    FBI Phoenix Tech Tuesday: Phishing and Spoofing Scams

    FBI Phoenix Special Agent Suzanne Allen describes the dangers of phishing and spoofing scams.

  • 04.26.2021

    International Scammer Sentenced

    A man who used phishing techniques to steal millions of dollars in a global business email compromise scheme received a 10-year prison term for his crimes.

  • 10.15.2019

    Phishing the Famous

    A Georgia man who used phishing techniques to steal celebrities' credit card numbers and use them fraudulently has been sentenced to prison for his crimes.

  • 06.13.2019

    Gone Phishing

    A fraudster who conducted a text message-based phishing scam to steal bank information—and used that information to steal thousands of dollars from victims—is now behind bars.

  • 03.08.2018

    FBI, This Week: W-2 Phishing Scams Increase During Tax Season

    The latest evolution of the sophisticated business e-mail compromise scam targets businesses for access to sensitive tax-related data.

  • 07.03.2017

    Phishing for Photos

    A man who tricked more than 50 unsuspecting women into providing him their passwords so he could steal their private information and photographs is spending time behind bars.