What is Pharming?

Pharming is a more advanced method of identity theft.  This scam originates on the internet and involves technically sound hackers who secretly redirect an unknowing user's computer from legitimate sites to those supplied by the scammer.  The pharming website will have a striking resemble to the original, making users much more susceptible to entering their personal details. 

Criminals who participate in pharming are so advanced that they are even able to mimic the domains of legitimate web sites.  What makes this crime so alarming is the fact that these expert hackers have the ability to simultaneously re-route thousands of users just by installing a few malicious codes. 

Several internet security firms have reported that pharmers primarily use two methods to simulate legitimate web sites.  The first method is to infect a user's computer with a virus or malware.  This prompts the unsuspecting user to enter their information on a fraudulent site without even knowing it.  From there, the information is stolen by the criminal and identity theft begins. 

The second method hackers employ is cracking into DNS (domain name system) servers.  Millions of computers throughout the world depend on these servers to communicate with one another.  After a web criminal feeds erroneous data to a DNS server, millions of internet users are then depending on systems that have been poisoned, redirecting them to fraudulent sites even though they entered a legitimate URL.  This enables a pharmer to obtain any information they request.   

How to Avoid Pharming 

Pharming has become such a reliable method of identity theft because it is difficult for anyone to know when a site has been hijacked.  In most cases, the fraudulent URL and website appear to be legitimate. The U.S. Senate is currently developing strategies to stiffen the penalties against those convicted of pharming.  Until the laws are finalized, you can follow these steps to keep your identity safe:

1.  Upon reaching a site that requires you to enter sensitive information, always look for details that indicate its authenticity.  This may be a "lock" icon near the browser bar or a URL that begins with "https" as opposed to "http". 

2.  Test the web site's legitimacy by searching for a digital certificate.  When used, the certificate generally appears in a dialog box in the form of a "padlock" icon.  You can click on the icon to ensure that the certificate's owner is official. 

3.  Instead of using a URL, type the site's IP address into your browser bar.  You can find the IP address for many web sites by visiting www.networksolutions.com

4.  Keep all of your computer programs updated with the latest patches. 

5.  Remain cautious when downloading any free software from the web.  Viruses are often bundled with these programs, making it much easier to be led to a fraudulent site. 

6.  Use a firewall application to fend off malicious hackers. 

7.  Install and frequently update a quality anti-virus program.  This will reduce the chance of a virus leading you to a pharming website.   

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In 2003, more than 10 million Americans fell victim to identity theft.

Identity theft costs business and individuals $53 billion dollars annually

In 2003, Americans spent 300 million hours resolving issues related to identity theft.

70% of all identity theft cases are perpetrated by a co-worker or employee of an affiliated business.