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Scam Alert

Glossary of Scam Terminology

Here’s your guide to the common lingo of cutting-edge fraud

Back in simpler times, "skimming" involved a flat rock and a lake, "cramming" was what college students did before final exams or in telephone booths (remember them?), and "phishing" was a misspelled way to catch dinner.

But scammer rip-offs rewrote those meanings. Here's a guide to the dialect of common types of computer-assisted deception (click on links for more details):

pharming phishing figuring fishing ampersand scam fraud alert

What's the difference between pharming and phishing? — Getty Images

Botnet. A network of computers — maybe one of the machines is yours — that scammers have infected with hidden software to secretly send spam.

Cramming. The illegal placement of unauthorized charges on your telephone bill for unrequested services or calls not made.

Hacker. Someone who uses the Internet to illegally break into computers.

Keystroke logger. A usually covert program that tracks (or logs) sequential strokes on your keyboard to allow remote hackers to capture your passwords and online banking and credit card information.

Malware. Short for "malicious software," this term means computer viruses and other types of programs that cybercriminals use to disrupt or access your computer, typically with the aim of gathering sensitive files and accounts.

Pharming. When hackers use malicious programs to route you to their own sites — even though you've correctly typed in the address of a site you want to visit. The software stealthily diverts you to a look-alike destination, typically with the goal of gathering personal information for identity theft.

Phishing. The use of authentic-looking emails, often purporting to be from a bank or government agency, to trick you into responding with sensitive personal data.

Ransomware. A malicious computer program that restricts or disables your computer and then demands, typically via a pop-up window, that you pay a fee to fix the problem.

Scareware. A type of malware that displays on-screen warnings of nonexistent computer infections or generates constant pop-ups intended to trick you into buying useless or potentially dangerous "protection" software.

Skimming. The capturing of information from the magnetic stripe on your ATM and credit card by use of portable "skimmer" devices that are secretly installed on card-reading machines.

Smishing. Named for the SMS (short message service) technology used to send text messages, it means phishing attempts made on cellphones.

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