Phishing refers to an email scam in which an identity thief poses as a legitimate organization and asks for your personal information. An example is an email that looks like it comes from eBay, PayPal, your bank or the IRS. It may incorporate logos and other trademarks of those organizations. The messenger says there's a problem with your account, or perhaps that you are owed money, and asks that you click a link. The link takes you to a Web site that also looks official and asks you to enter account number, Social Security or other information. These are always scams.
While not generally called phishing, this scam can be done by phone as well. The best advice is never to give out your personal information to anyone who contacts you. Give that out only when you initiate the contact. For more, see identity theft.
Sample phishing email
This sample phishing email's author claims to be Chase Bank. Clicking the "click here" link embedded within the phishing email and following the instructions to complete the so-called "customer survey" is how the phishers will obtain the information they need to complete their scam. There is no $20 for you, just a scam.
This sample phishing email's author claims to be the Internal Revenue Service. Clicking the "click here" link embedded within the phishing email and following the instructions contained in that web page is how the phishers will obtain the information they need to complete their scam.