Phishing scams have become a persistent threat at home and work. Scammers use email, text, and social media messaging to trick individuals into sharing sensitive information. A phishing scam can lead to identity theft and other severe consequences.
Phishing messages often appear to come from valid sources. The message may appear to be coming directly from your bank, PayPal, or Venmo. But in reality, scammers send messages to commit cybercrimes against unsuspecting victims.
What Scammers Aim to Gain
Scammers have different motives, but most are financially driven. Here are a few ways that cybercriminals benefit from sending scam emails:
- Identity Theft. Scammers can steal a person's social security number, address, date of birth, and additional private details. This information allows them to open credit card accounts or loans in your name.
- Financial Fraud. If cybercriminals get access to your banking information, they can make unauthorized purchases or withdraw money from your account.
- Credential Theft. Phishing attacks often aim to steal login credentials for various online websites and applications. Once scammers have these credentials, they can use them for their own purposes or sell the information on the dark web.
- Malware. Phishing emails may contain malicious attachments or links. The malware downloads onto your device when you click on the attachment or link.
- Ransomware. In some cases, phishing emails may contain ransomware links or attachments. Ransomware hijacks a device and demands a ransom payment for getting access back.
Signs of a Phishing Email
Although scammers tend to change up their tactics, the following are the most common themes you're likely to see in a phishing email:
- Unusual Sender. Pay close attention to the sender's email address. Phishing emails will use similar email addresses but are slightly different from those of a legitimate company. You'll notice extra numbers, letters, characters, or unknown domain addresses.
- Generic Greetings. Phishing emails often use generic greetings like "Dear Customer" or "Valued User" to address the person. A legitimate company is more likely to use your real name.
- Fear Tactics. Phishing emails often create a sense of urgency to make you want to take immediate action. The emails may threaten account suspension, claim unauthorized activity, or warn of serious consequences if you don't respond immediately.
- Spelling and Grammar Mistakes. Poor spelling, grammar errors, and awkward phrasing are common in phishing emails. Legitimate organizations typically have professional copywriters and would rarely send messages with glaring mistakes.
- Mismatched URLs. When you receive any emails, first hover over the links. You'll be able to see the actual URL of the link. Check for misspellings in the URL.
- Spoofing Legitimate Brands. Scammers may impersonate reputable organizations by using their branding to appear authentic. These emails may request personal information or direct recipients to fake websites to collect login credentials.
- Fake Invoices. Phishing emails may make payment requests from well-known companies. They could demand immediate payment or ask that you verify your account. By using a fake payment page, scammers can capture your credit card information.
- Security Alerts. Scammers may send emails warning recipients of security breaches. The emails often request you verify the account information or reset passwords by clicking on a provided link. The link brings you to a fake login page to steal your credentials.
- Phishing via Attachments. Some emails contain malicious attachments, such as infected PDFs. When opened, the documents install malware on your device. Once the malware is downloaded, the scammers can take control of your device and steal data.
Tips to Avoid Phishing Scams
Phishing attacks are a serious threat to both individuals and businesses, with 94% reporting being victims of such scams. However, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from becoming the next target:
1. Be Skeptical
Always approach unsolicited emails or messages with skepticism. Most companies don't ask you to send sensitive financial details or login credentials via email. If you need more clarification, take the time to verify the source as part of your vulnerability detection best practices. Find the contact information for the legitimate company and call or message them directly.
Don't share personal information like passwords or social security numbers. You also shouldn't enter sensitive details into links you've clicked from your email or text. Secure websites will appear as "https://" instead of "http://." The "s" indicates that the website has an SSL-encrypted connection.
2. Use a VPN for Added Security
Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) can add an extra layer of security when attempting to stay protected against phishing scams. A VPN encrypts your internet connection, similar to SSL encryption. VPNs can offer additional perks, including vulnerability detection tools. The tool can scan devices to confirm you don't have any security flaws.
3. Check for Software Vulnerabilities
Regularly checking for software vulnerabilities can also assist with staying protected against phishing attacks. Scammers can exploit any vulnerability in your device or email client. Install updates for hardware and software programs as soon as they're available to get required security patches.
Remember—knowing the signs of phishing messages can reduce your risk of falling victim to a cybercriminal. Phishing scams can have serious financial repercussions for both individuals and businesses. Never click on unknown links or send personal details until you verify the sender's legitimacy. If a message looks suspicious, you may use our online tool to verify shortened URL without clicking on it.
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