phish·​ing ˈfi-shiŋ How to pronounce phishing (audio)
: the practice of tricking Internet users (as through the use of deceptive email messages or websites) into revealing personal or confidential information which can then be used illicitly
The most common form … is called phishing, a one-two punch using both email and Web browsing to trick people into typing confidential information into Web sites that look like the sites of real companies, especially financial institutions.Walter S. Mossberg
Social engineering tactics, such as phishing schemes, are often used by attackers to obtain valid credentials or other personal information.Jack Morse
see also spear phishing compare smishing

Did you know?

Phishing is one of the many new computer-related terms that have found their way into the general lexicon over the past decade or so. Its "ph" spelling is influenced by an earlier word for an illicit act: "phreaking." Phreaking involves fraudulently using an electronic device to avoid paying for telephone calls, and its name is suspected of being a shortening of "phone freak." A common phishing scam involves sending emails that appear to come from banks requesting recipients to verify their accounts by typing personal details, such as credit card information, into a website that has been disguised to look like the real thing. Such scams can be thought of as "fishing" for naive recipients.

Examples of phishing in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web In fact, over 90% of successful cyber attacks start with a phishing email, according to Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency regional external affairs officer Jeffery Kelly. Noelle Alviz-Gransee, Kansas City Star, 9 May 2024 Little Bang for Your Buck Panda Dome Essential for Mac visibly eliminates some Windows malware, and its Safe Browsing component detected some phishing frauds, though fewer than most competitors. PCMAG, 6 May 2024 But the antivirus is just decent, parental control is minimal, and its phishing protection is poor. PCMAG, 26 Mar. 2024 Rao compared the potential shift to expecting and recognizing content credentials in visual media to public awareness of online phishing campaigns — which, meanwhile, have sharply increased alongside the rise of ChatGPT. Kevin Collier, NBC News, 19 Mar. 2024 How the Snapchat accounts were accessed Between June 2021 and December 2022, Valdez got into dozens of women’s Snapchat accounts through a phishing scheme, according to the sentencing memo. Julia Marnin, Miami Herald, 4 Mar. 2024 Large language models can help write more persuasive phishing emails, for example. Rachyl Jones, Fortune, 9 Apr. 2024 Each of the many phishing centers answers to Derek Danforth (Josh Hutcherson), a douchey 28-year-old rich-kid cokehead who tools around his office on a skateboard in extraordinarily ugly outfits (that puke-green suit!) and bad highlights. David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, 10 Jan. 2024 Statham stars as Adam Clay, a former operative who sets out to exact revenge after his friend falls for a ruinous phishing scam and dies by suicide. Rebecca Rubin, Variety, 10 Jan. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'phishing.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


respelling of fishing, with ph- probably after phreaking

First Known Use

1996, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of phishing was in 1996


Dictionary Entries Near phishing

Cite this Entry

“Phishing.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


phish·​ing ˈfish-iŋ How to pronounce phishing (audio)
: a scam by which an Internet user is fooled into revealing personal information which can then be used illegally
phisher noun

Legal Definition


phish·​ing ˈfi-shiŋ How to pronounce phishing (audio)
: a fraudulent operation by which an e-mail user is duped into revealing personal or confidential information which can be used for illicit purposes (as identity theft)

alteration of fishing (probably influenced by phreaking illegal access to a phone system)

More from Merriam-Webster on phishing

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