Is Phishing Illegal? Here’s What You Need to Know

What is phishing?

What is phishing?
Phishing is a malicious practice used by cybercriminals to deceive individuals into revealing sensitive information such as passwords, credit card numbers, or social security numbers.

These criminals often impersonate trustworthy entities, such as banks or government agencies, and use various methods to trick their victims into providing their personal information.

Phishing attacks typically occur through email, text messages, or phone calls, and can have severe consequences for individuals and organizations.

Types of phishing attacks

Types of phishing attacks

Email phishing

Email phishing is the most common type of phishing attack. Cybercriminals send deceptive emails that appear to be from legitimate sources, such as banks or online retailers, and ask recipients to provide their personal information by clicking on a link or downloading an attachment. These emails often create a sense of urgency or fear to manipulate individuals into taking immediate action.


Smishing, or SMS phishing, involves sending fraudulent text messages to individuals’ mobile phones. These messages typically contain a link or phone number that, when clicked or called, directs the victim to a fake website or automated phone system designed to collect their personal information.


Vishing, or voice phishing, is a type of phishing attack that occurs over the phone. Cybercriminals impersonate legitimate organizations and use social engineering techniques to trick individuals into revealing their personal information or performing certain actions, such as transferring money or providing access to their computer systems.


Pharming is a more sophisticated type of phishing attack that involves redirecting individuals to fake websites without their knowledge or consent. Cybercriminals manipulate the domain name system (DNS) or compromise legitimate websites to redirect users to malicious websites that appear identical to the legitimate ones. Once on these fake websites, individuals may unknowingly provide their personal information, which is then captured by the attackers.

Legal implications of phishing

Identity theft

Phishing attacks often lead to identity theft, where cybercriminals use stolen personal information to impersonate individuals and carry out fraudulent activities. This can result in financial losses, damage to credit scores, and reputational harm.

Financial fraud

Phishing attacks can also lead to financial fraud, as cybercriminals gain access to individuals’ bank accounts, credit card information, or other financial details. They may use this information to make unauthorized transactions, drain bank accounts, or open new lines of credit in the victims’ names.

Unauthorized access to computer systems

In some cases, phishing attacks are aimed at gaining unauthorized access to computer systems or networks. Cybercriminals may use the information obtained through phishing to infiltrate organizations’ systems, steal sensitive data, or launch further attacks.

Violation of privacy laws

Phishing attacks often involve the collection and misuse of individuals’ personal information, which can violate privacy laws in many jurisdictions. These laws aim to protect individuals’ privacy and regulate the collection, storage, and use of personal data.

Phishing laws around the world

Phishing laws around the world

United States

In the United States, phishing is illegal under various federal and state laws. The CAN-SPAM Act, for example, prohibits the sending of deceptive emails and imposes penalties for violations. Additionally, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and the Identity Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act (ITERA) provide legal frameworks for prosecuting phishing attacks.

European Union

In the European Union, phishing is illegal under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the ePrivacy Directive. These regulations protect individuals’ personal data and require organizations to obtain explicit consent for collecting and processing personal information.


In Canada, phishing is illegal under the Criminal Code, which prohibits unauthorized access to computer systems, fraud, and identity theft. The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) also regulates the collection and use of personal information by organizations.


In Australia, phishing is illegal under the Criminal Code Act and the Privacy Act. These laws protect individuals’ personal information and impose penalties for unauthorized access to computer systems, fraud, and identity theft.

Penalties for phishing

Penalties for phishing


Individuals and organizations found guilty of phishing can face significant fines. The amount of the fine varies depending on the jurisdiction and the severity of the offense. In the United States, for example, fines for phishing can range from thousands to millions of dollars.


Phishing can also lead to imprisonment for those convicted of the offense. The length of the prison sentence depends on the jurisdiction and the specific circumstances of the case. In some cases, individuals involved in large-scale phishing operations have been sentenced to several years in prison.


In addition to fines and imprisonment, individuals convicted of phishing may be required to pay restitution to their victims. This can involve reimbursing victims for financial losses or providing compensation for other damages caused by the phishing attack.

How to protect yourself from phishing attacks

How to protect yourself from phishing attacks
– Be cautious of emails, text messages, or phone calls asking for personal information.
– Verify the legitimacy of the sender or caller by independently contacting the organization they claim to represent.
– Avoid clicking on suspicious links or downloading attachments from unknown sources.
– Keep your computer and mobile devices up to date with the latest security patches and antivirus software.
– Use strong, unique passwords for your online accounts and enable two-factor authentication whenever possible.
– Regularly monitor your financial accounts and credit reports for any suspicious activity.


Phishing is a serious cybercrime with severe legal implications. It involves deceiving individuals into revealing their personal information, leading to identity theft, financial fraud, and unauthorized access to computer systems.

Laws around the world prohibit phishing and impose penalties such as fines, imprisonment, and restitution. To protect yourself from phishing attacks, it is important to remain vigilant, verify the legitimacy of communications, and take proactive measures to secure your personal information.


  • Is it illegal to Phish people?

    Those charged with phishing can face fines, a prison sentence or probation. A felony phishing conviction can carry a sentence of up to five years in prison, while a misdemeanor phishing conviction can result in up to a year in prison.

  • Is phishing a criminal?

    What is phishing? ‘Phishing’ is when criminals use scam emails, text messages or phone calls to trick their victims. The aim is often to make you visit a website, which may download a virus onto your computer, or steal bank details or other personal information.

  • Is phishing a federal crime?

    Because phishing is often facilitated by computers or the Internet, it is considered a cybercrime. Both state and federal governments have laws concerning the conduct involved in phishing. Anyone found guilty can face time in state or federal prison and/or a fine.

  • What are the consequences of phishing?

    Compromised clinical systems, patient safety & care.
    System & services outage.
    Damage to reputation, loss of revenue & customers.
    Loss of intellectual property.
    Monetary losses (e.g., compliance fines, response & remediation costs, legal fees)

Originally posted 2023-11-02 07:36:51.

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