Phishing refers to the process where a targeted individual is contacted by email or telephone by someone posing as a legitimate institution to lure the individual into providing sensitive information such as banking information, credit card details, and passwords. The personal information is then used to access the individual’s account and can result in identity theft and financial loss.
Legally, phishing is a cyber crime where an imitation of the website of a company is created by phishers to cheat users into providing sensitive information. The first phishing lawsuit was filed in 2004 against a Californian teenager who created the imitation of the website “America Online”. With this imitation website, he was able to gain sensitive information from users and access the credit card details to withdraw money from their accounts. Other than Internet phishing, there’s also phone phishing where a message on the phone from a fake bank officer or other official sounding individual will ask you to dial a number and enter the pin codes and account number of your account to verify the bank account. Unsuspecting victims who call the fake number and provide all the necessary information will soon find out that some money is missing from their accounts (see History of Phishing for more background information).
There are lots of resources out there to help you understand Phishing and how to avoid being phished. Checkout Phishing.org for example.