Today, spam emails are nothing new. But hidden among them are phishing scams. Masqueraded as genuine emails, these are increasingly difficult to identify. Each year, millions of people fall prey to these scams that often phish for personal data or target victims for financial fraud.
Phishing email examples are numerous, especially from the recent past. The pandemic times saw a dramatic rise in phishing scams that solicited donations, presumably to support financially affected communities. Recently, the IRS warned university staff and students of an imposter email scam that phished taxpayer information.
Needless to say, identifying phishing scams and adopting strong security measures is imperative to evade these criminal threats and ensure the safe use of email communications. So, here’s your essential guide to guard yourself against phishing fraud.
Protect yourself from phishing emails: A 10-step guide.
1. Keep yourself updated.
Phishing emails can arrive in many guises. During tax season, it can take the form of an IRS notification. During a hurricane, it can come disguised as a disaster relief request. Criminals are constantly finding new ways to mislead victims. So, educating yourself of common tactics and the latest phishing scam trends is crucial to keep yourself protected. It’ll help you to anticipate threats, identify scam emails, and take effective action to minimize risks.
Today, there are plenty of security sites, forums, and newsletters to stay abreast of evolving phishing threats. News media is also quick to report trending scams. Even social media is an excellent tool to build awareness.
2. Check the email address.
Careful examination of the email address could give away plenty of information. Fraudsters frequently imitate recognizable email IDs like standard customer care email addresses that organizations use. But often, you’ll find a slight dissimilarity. These are minor details that will typically go unnoticed. But detecting them is not so tricky if you examine them with a sharp eye.
3. Watch out for writing style.
The writing style could reveal various clues to help you distinguish a phishing email from a genuine one, especially when the email looks identical to those sent by an authentic person or organization. Phishing emails will usually have grammar and spelling mistakes, which are hard to find in professionally written communications. They could have a generic greeting, such as “Dear customer”. The writing style, language, and tone might also be off from what’s typically used by the respective individual or organization.
4. Examine the email signature.
The sign-off is another essential element to assess. Of course, criminals will typically imitate the original signatures of the company they’re impersonating. But they are bound to make a mistake somewhere. It could be a difference in content alignment, phone number, or even a spelling mistake.
5. Take note of suspicious requests.
The requests made by the sender are usually the biggest giveaway when identifying a phishing email. They might ask you to share personal, sensitive, or confidential information or request that you make an urgent payment. If you receive this type of email, avoid rushing into action. Take your time, and don’t hesitate to ask questions, even if the email sender seems familiar.
6. Verify links.
Email links are a common bait for phishing scams. It’s an easy technique to take you to a malicious website designed to harvest data or infect your devices with malware. These links will often resemble authentic URLs but with minor differences. So, examine them carefully to identify any dissimilarities. If you move the cursor over the link, you can also detect any differences between the typed URL and the linked site. A safer option is to save regularly accessed URLs on your browser and use them to access the respective website.
7. Contact the sender.
If you’re apprehensive about the authenticity of an email request, it’s essential to contact the sender. It’ll help you verify that the email originated from them. However, avoid using phone numbers displayed on the email. If it’s a phishing email, the number could be part of the scam, too.
8. Install a virus guard.
A strong virus guard could help shield you from fraudulent attacks and malware threats. They can scan emails and websites, prevent malware threats arising from downloaded files, and set up spam filters. But ensure you install them not just on your desktop but also on your smartphone and any other device that you use to check emails.
9. Report suspicious emails.
If you receive a suspicious email, it’s important to report it to all necessary parties. For example, if it’s sent to your work email, inform your company’s IT department. It’ll help them warn others and set up necessary security barriers. You must report an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or tax-related phishing email to the IRS to investigate. And notify the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about general identity theft or fraud-related scams.
10. Keep personal data secure.
Many phishing scams stem from mishandled personal data. For example, it could be the result of a data breach, data harvesting, or irresponsible data sharing. Often, these criminals would have much more than your email address. Additional details could allow them to customize phishing emails so they look more authentic. Therefore, the importance of keeping your data safe cannot be stressed enough.
To wrap up
Phishing emails are a common menace that has risen with today’s heavy dependence on digital communication. They are increasingly sophisticated and can appear in various guises. So, keeping yourself updated on evolving scams and trends is critical to identify them early. Of course, they could contain many other clues that could help you detect fraud. The email address, writing style, sign-off, content and requests, and links can all serve as red flags.
If you notice anything suspicious, contact the sender to verify. Report phishing emails to all relevant parties, and remember to keep your devices and data safe.
Also Read: How to Delete All Emails At Once on Android