How to spot phishing scams every time

When it comes to sniffing out phishing scams nothing beats individual vigilance.

It is likely that we’ve all come into contact with a phishing scam in the last few years. From fake Nigerian princes asking you to transfer money to emails claiming you are entitled to insurance pay outs, the bad phishing scams are often laughably obvious.

The good ones, however, are increasingly sophisticated and capable of snagging even the most careful consumers.

The reason behind this is the use of deeply manipulative social engineering techniques that are designed to confuse people’s decision-making and play off their subconscious biases. The use of official sounding language and designs that match established companies are effective ways of fooling people into handing over their personal details.

No matter how convincing the messages look though, there are always some clear signs that you can look for to make sure you stay away.

Phishing giveaways

There is always an increase in phishing emails around key points of the year, such as tax season in the US and the build up to Christmas time. Scammers are looking to prey upon people who may be feeling worried or stressed and are looking for a solution that can help them.

For example, as Americans prepare to file their annual taxes, the amount of emails arriving in their inboxes claiming that there is a problem with their financial accounts can increase. The emails will direct readers to click on a link to sort the problem, but this is just a way to get the reader to give up their personal information. For someone who is feeling the stress of trying to get their taxes done on time, panic may override reason if they receive a message like this and they could have inputted the information before they stop to think.

It is good practice to exercise some scepticism when it comes to the emails you receive, especially those you are not expecting.

Here are some things you should always check:

The return address
Take a careful look at the email address that has sent you the message. While the really sophisticated ones will have created an email address that closely mimics the company or organisation they are impersonating, a lot of them won’t put this much effort in. If the return address has nothing to do with the subject, close it and move on.

What the message is asking you to do
You should be very careful about clicking on links, downloading anything or replying to emails. Most reputable companies will not ask you do this unless you have requested a change of password or asked them for a particular service. If you are in doubt, it is always best to contact the company directly and ask them, rather than take the chance and click on the link.

What is being offered?
The old adage that if something looks too good to be true then it probably is stands especially true for phishing scams. Part of the social engineering toolkit used by scammers is trying to present people with what seems like the perfect solution to their problem at exactly the right time. This applies to offers, discounts or free trails as well.

Other steps to take
Perhaps the most important step you can take is deleting suspicious looking emails. A lot of people let these emails linger in their inbox for too long, instead of just getting rid of them straight away.

A lot of companies and organisations have their own portals or apps, so it is always best to conduct as much of your activity within these protected environments as possible. If you get an email from someone claiming to be your bank saying that there is a problem with your account, your first action should be to open a new window and try to log in yourself. If you have a problem, you can call a helpline. This also applies to emails claiming there is a problem with ecommerce websites like Amazon.

Making sure that you have strong passwords is really important too. You should never give your password away or click on a link to change it unless you have already specifically requested a password change.

In terms of beefing up your online security, we can help you in three important ways:

  • An Antivirus can alert you when malicious software is trying to gain entry to your computer and can remove any that do get through. Our antivirus also has a ‘Safe site’ feature that analyses and blocks phishing sites that are imitating real, legitimate websites.

  • A VPN provides your internet connection with an extra layer of encryption and privacy. While this doesn’t protect you against phishing scams, it can help you ensure that you are as secure as possible when sharing data online.

  • Our secure Password Vault allows you to safely store all of your passwords in one place.

While taking these security measures is important, when it comes to sniffing out phishing scams nothing beats individual vigilance. If you become an expert at spotting these scams straight away you can save yourself a lot of time and bother.

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