Phishing scams are just a part of being online now. It is important that you are aware of them, how to spot them, and avoid becoming a victim. Anti Phishing software can help, but in the end you have to be aware.
Phishing is simply another way to try to steal valuable information from people. A Phishing scammer sends a mass email to a huge number of email addresses that he can find. The message will generally seem like it is coming from some sort of financial institution. The Phishing email will tell you that you need to update your information. Usually there is a link provided where you can do this update.
A good Phishing email will sound reasonable and legitimate, but they are nothing of the sort. The link will not take you to the financial institution. Rather, the information you enter will go directly to the Phishing scammer's website.
Most anyone can be fooled by a really complex Phishing scam. Simple ones are easy to figure out, but really good Phishing scammers are pretty smart. They incorporate a number of different tricks to make the Phishing scam look real. They may even use a graphic from the institute from which the email is supposed to be. The link might even look real, with the institution's name and everything in it, but in reality it is part of the scam.
It is not all that difficult to spot a simple Phishing scam. If, for instance, you were to receive an email from an institution with whom you have never had a relationship, you can be pretty sure it's an illegitimate email. However, if you actually do have an account or relationship with the institution things can be more difficult. Look carefully to see it the message is a scam by looking for misspelled words or bad grammar (they sometimes operate in other languages).
Really, the most effective way to avoid being a victim of Phishing is to just use common sense. You can also use anti Phishing software, or you simply be in communication with your financial institution. Most of them will not ask for your information via phone or email.
So let's say you did all of these things, and you still got caught by a Phishing scam. Be vigilant and help stop them from getting others. First, make your financial institution aware of what has occurred. In most cases, they will want to go after the Phishing scammer, and they will likely keep an even closer eye on your account. Second, contact one of the major credit agencies and let them know what occurred. They can put a fraud alert on your report so that suspicious activity can be caught right away. Then, keep a very close eye on your mail and all of your accounts with all institutions. Remember, the scammers now have your personal information. If you notice that statements or bills aren't showing up, call your bank or the company whose statement you are missing right away to get the problem corrected and to possibly stop the scammers.
To help control the problem of Phishing scams, the US government has set up a site to stop it through the federal trade commission. If you receive suspicious email, report it to the site. The other option you may have is if you are using an email provider that has a "report as spam" or similar function on your email, use it on all of these suspicious emails.