phish·​ing | \ ˈfi-shiŋ How to pronounce phishing (audio) \

Definition of phishing

: a scam by which an Internet user is duped (as by a deceptive e-mail message) into revealing personal or confidential information which the scammer can use illicitly

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from phishing

phisher \ ˈfi-​shər How to pronounce phisher (audio) \ noun

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 e-mails that appear to come from banks requesting recipients to verify their accounts by typing personal details, such as credit card information, into a Web site 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 Elsewhere, Russian criminal gangs are getting into business email compromise—a fancy term for phishing scams—which can only end well. Brian Barrett, Wired, "Security News This Week: 15 Billion Stolen Logins Are Circulating on the Dark Web," 11 July 2020 Local election offices remain susceptible to email phishing attempts and website hacks that could penetrate state voter registration databases and other critical systems. Anchorage Daily News, "Election experts warn of November disaster," 11 July 2020 Hackers for hire, a particularly ignominious phishing campaign, and more of the week's top security news. Brian Barrett, Wired, "Security News This Week: Zoom Shut Down US-Based Activists at China's Request," 13 June 2020 Microsoft customers were targeted in a massive phishing campaign that has sought to defraud users in 62 countries since December. Washington Post, "Microsoft reports phishing campaign; Philip Morris wins marketing approval," 7 July 2020 Phishing attacks Not surprisingly, hackers are out to steal your banking credentials through sophisticated phishing attacks as more people work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press, "Disappearing cash scares consumers in COVID-19 era," 30 June 2020 Apart from the risk of spending too much time on silly animal videos, there’s a greater menace — that of being financially and emotionally manipulated by malware, phishing schemes or scams. Elizabeth Heath, Washington Post, "Go ahead and watch. Cute or funny animal videos can be good for you.," 26 June 2020 As a result, this girl now goes to senior centers to help older adults understand the basics of cybersecurity and learn ways to protect themselves, from password protection to recognizing phishing scams. Sylvia Acevedo, Wired, "The Cyberwar Needs More Women on the Front Lines," 11 June 2020 The activity is also in keeping with Russia's actions ahead of the 2016 United States presidential election in which Russian hackers launched highly consequential phishing attacks against campaigns and political organizations. Andy Greenberg, Wired, "Security News This Week: China and Iran Tried to Hack the Biden and Trump Campaigns," 6 June 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'phishing.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of phishing

1996, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for phishing

alteration (influenced by phreaking) of fishing

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about phishing

Time Traveler for phishing

Time Traveler

The first known use of phishing was in 1996

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast about phishing

Statistics for phishing

Last Updated

5 Aug 2020

Cite this Entry

“Phishing.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Aug. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for phishing


phish·​ing | \ ˈfi-shiŋ How to pronounce phishing (audio) \

Legal Definition of phishing

: 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)

History and Etymology for phishing

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

More from Merriam-Webster on phishing

Nglish: Translation of phishing for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about phishing

Comments on phishing

What made you want to look up phishing? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

July 2020 Words of the Day Quiz

  • papercraft sunset
  • Which is a synonym of mien?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Syn City

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!