How to Spot Sneaky and Dangerous Phishing Emails
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Phishing email scams come in a variety of forms
At work, you might receive an email supposedly about an overdue invoice requiring urgent payment. You forward it to your boss, then find out later you were unwittingly pulled into a scam.
Whereas, at home and on personal devices, more people than ever get emails claiming there is footage of them watching pornography. Often, to get the non-existent video back, a Bitcoin payment is demanded.
Although both examples are different, the goal is the same: to extract money from those targeted by these emails. Now, only a small percentage will transfer money, willingly or unwittingly. But there are enough recipients scammed every year to make the small amount of effort criminals put in worthwhile.
According to published statistics, one in 99 emails is a phishing attempt, and at least 30% of these make it past firewalls and other security software. A tiny percentage are even white-listed by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), recent data shows. Surprisingly, 35% of professionals still don't know how to detect scam emails, or what phishing even means.
With one in 25 of these emails branded to look like they're from a legitimate company, such as Amazon and Microsoft, people can be forgiven for falling victim. It’s not just about getting money from these attacks; at least 50% include malware and two out of three feature malicious links. In total, the cost of cyber-attacks to businesses is over $5 billion worldwide every year.
What is a phishing email?
Unlike malware, or other computer viruses, email scams, known as phishing emails aren't trying to attack a computer or device. The aim is to attack the person behind it in an attempt to extort or scam money from them.
It’s a symptom of our hyper-connected Internet age that people and companies can lose money to strangers. And these unknown criminals will almost always get away with these attacks on our privacy. Automated bots often send out the scams, it’s only when a human responds that cyber-criminals can complete the attack.
Law enforcement agencies rarely catch the perpetrators, except on those occasions when a cyber-security task force shuts a dark web operation down. And even then, the amounts of money stolen are often too small for many people or companies to phone the authorities about. It means instances of restitution to victims are few and far between. It indicates how much of a huge threat phishing continues to be to our online security.
How to spot a phishing email?
Knowing what to look for is key. Not everyone does. However, even those with experience of receiving, then promptly deleting phishing emails don't always spot the latest attempts to appear legitimate.
Sooner or later anyone could fall victim to a scam email. So, even if you've been using the Internet since the pre-Smartphone days, it could save you money and stress to continually refresh your phishing email knowledge.
Below is a list of various ways to spot scams.It’s always worth remembering that phishing emails come in many forms, in countless guises, so always trust your gut. Even if something appears to come from a genuine source, always check with them first before transferring any money.
How to detect scam emails?
1. Is it in your spam folder?
Spam folders and scammers are playing a constant cat-and-mouse game, so this is far from a definitive way of testing the legitimacy of a message. Remember, a small percentage of these emails even get white-listed by ISPs. However, it’s a strong indication that an email is a scam when it doesn't get past a spam filter, even if it looks legitimate.
2. Does it encourage a sense of urgency?
- “Click this now to stop your Amazon account being deactivated!”
- “Make this payment today to avoid debt collection activity!”
- “Please click to confirm your security details”
Of course, other scam attempts, such as outright blackmail, will always come with a sense of urgency. But those trying to establish confidence and, therefore legitimacy, will usually adopt the disguise of a known brand, such as Amazon. For businesses, there are numerous fake emails pretending to be sent from government tax departments.
3. Does it lack detail?
Thanks to ever more secure data protection laws, you won’t always see all of your account details when you’re sent a genuine security or customer account-related message from a bank or service provider. Companies adopt this approach as email is not deemed to be the most secure method of communication.
But when a scam email does arrive, remember that those behind them rarely have all of your security details, so they’re hoping you will fill in the blanks. A clear sign of a phishing email is one where it sounds urgent, yet there isn’t enough information to sound specific to an account, even if one exists.
4. Font, formatting and other stylistic problems
Compared to professionally crafted email marketing or customer service emails, phishing attempts often skimp on details. Never underestimate the importance of noticing when font, formatting or other aspects of an email appear inconsistent and badly put together. More often than not, these are signs that an email is a scam.
When it comes to phishing, there are numerous other warnings to look out for. Scammers are creative and constantly evolving their methods as new opportunities to scam people and companies emerge. If you spot any of the above signs, an email is almost certainly a scam. And even if there aren't any , but something feels off - if your instinct says something isn't right - then trust it. When an email gets through a spam filter, if it looks illegitimate, then it probably is.
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We hope our guide on phishing will help you enjoy your digital life without fear of your information being stolen or misused. Now you know more on how to stay safe online, dig deeper into what we call “The Internet of Us”.
Meanwhile, at Clario we’re hard at work on creating a first-class tech solution for your digital safety, combined with expert human support on call 24/7. We’re eager to help and support you, so stay tuned for more updates!
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