Phishing emails are growing ever more common because people keep falling for them. Even so, phishing scams have been around since before the modern internet took shape. The concept is simple: an email that says it’s from an official source tells the recipient that there’s been some trouble and they need their login name and password, bank numbers, social security number, or some other personal information that someone could use to fake your identity.
Once they get your information, the phishing hacker uses it to get into a secure server and steal everything they can. Experts estimate that over 90 percent of all security breaches start with phishing scams. Since phishers send these emails to every account they can find, it’s up to everyone to know what to look for before opening and replying to what could be a scam email.
Phishers will send their emails using accounts with names that sound official but aren’t. This can involve picking a domain name that looks like a real company but has a different spelling, and it can involve taking advantage of how modern email systems will list nicknames first instead of addresses. As such, when you get an unexpected email from an official source, make sure you check and verify the address it came from.
Companies that send out a lot of important emails will use an automated system that sends out emails as soon as they notice something happening. Because of this, the subject lines are always the same. If it’s different for once, that’s a sure sign that someone’s phishing you. You should also beware of get-rich-quick subjects like “You’re already a winner!” and “Get an amazing deal, today only!”
Misspellings are always a dead giveaway that the email is a fake. So is any request to send sensitive information by email, because no serious company in the world does that. However, many phishers have realized this, and so you also shouldn’t automatically trust URLs, either. Good browsers and antivirus programs will block malicious sites from infecting your computer, but you can avoid even that by looking up the company’s official website and comparing it to the URL in the email.
As a rule, never, ever open an attachment in an email unless you know exactly who sent it and you’re expecting the attached file. Attachments can be viruses, Trojans, worms, or any kind of malware that will infect your computer and send important information to the hacker who created it. These viruses can even spread themselves by creating and sending emails from real accounts, which is why you shouldn’t trust email attachments you get even from friends and coworkers. If it seems important, send an email back asking about the attachment before you open it.
Phishing hackers can be just about anyone, from juvenile vandals to greedy con artists to a team working for a foreign government. However, phishing emails always have the same giveaways. Be sure to look for them before you give any personal information away.