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Cyber Crooks Go Phishing Phishing scams are back and more prevalent than ever. Find out how to avoid becoming a victim of a cyber scam.

By Kristin Edelhauser

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Large websites like PayPal, eBay and Amazon have all been targeted by phishing scam e-mails in the past, but experts say these days, online consumers are seeing even more "phishy" e-mails in their in-box.

So what exactly is phishing? Phishing is the term used when online crooks pretend to be financial institutions or legitimate companies and send spam or pop-up messages to try to get you to reveal your personal information.

One popular phishing e-mail that consumers should be wary of: e-mails urging them to enter personal information quickly so their order will arrive in time for special occasions and holidays. "Every year, especially during holidays, we've seen [this type of e-mail] ramp up bigger and bigger," says Christopher Faulkner, CEO of CI Host, a Dallas-based web hosting and website management company.

Despite public education about these types of e-mail scams, online crooks aren't giving up just yet. "As folks get savvier to what cyber crooks are looking for, cyber crooks have to get their game better. They've not stopping and giving up--they're just getting trickier and trickier," Faulkner says. "Every year we see websites go up that appear to be just like eBay or Amazon--they've got the logos, they've got the look and feel--but they're just a little bit different." The "o" in Amazon, for instance, might be a "0" in the fake version of the site used by a phisher.

If you do receive an e-mail similar to this but aren't sure if it's legit, put a call in to the customer service number provided on the official website of the company you ordered from to ask them about the e-mail. They'll let you know if they really need more information or if the e-mail is a scam.

Fake invitation e-mails are also common online scams, so be careful that you know the sender before replying to the e-mail. Also, be cautious with the amount of information you divulge on an invitation website. For instance, if the online invite is for your child's birthday party, be careful not to insert any information about the child's school, age or home address that online predators could latch onto. "We're seeing a lot of invitations for children's parties where parents are inviting all the child's friends, and they're listing the ages of the children," says Faulkner. "Cyber predators can use this stuff to help target kids."

Faulkner says the best way to avoid falling victim to phishing is not to rush. If you're in a panic to get your shopping done quickly, be it for a special occasion like a birthday or Christmas, you're more likely to slip up and fall victim to an e-mail scam. "It could easily happen to you," says Faulkner, "so be very alert out there and be cautious. If it's too good to be true, it is, so pass on it and move on to the next deal."

As's staff writer, Kristin Edelhauser writer features, blogs and other pieces for the site. She previously worked as a writer and researcher for the NBC San Diego affiliate.

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