How To

Phishing frenzy: how to keep phishers out of your inbox


Authored by a Symantec employee

 

Comedian James Veitch is a one-man counter-spammer. In one particularly funny face-off, Veitch spent several weeks communicating with a scammer who’d intended to steal thousands from him.

Towards the tail-end of their communication, Veitch had convinced the scammer to talk in code, where ‘Western Transfer’ was ‘a giant gummy lizard’, and ‘documents’ were ‘jelly beans’.

While Veitch has flipped the table on dozens of scammers, a reported 100,000 people fall victim to phishing scams every year. Whether it’s unclaimed insurance bonds, friends in dire need of help, or foreign beneficiaries offering large sums of money, more people than you think click links and enter details when they really shouldn’t.

While Veitch may have made a career out of mocking scammers, phishers are still a danger to many email users.
For those who don’t know, phishing is a scam based around tricking people into handing over passwords, users names, or personal details by clicking a link or downloading an attachment. Some phishing emails come loaded with malware while others exist only to steal information.

Regardless of intention, keeping a phisher out of your inbox (or out of your bank account or personal information) is very possible.

1. Learn to spot a phishing email

Phishing emails come in many different forms. Scammers are nothing if not persistent, and they’ll try just about anything to swindle your information out of you. They’ll make fake accounts and offer you a fortune beyond your wildest dreams.
However, if you know how to spot a phishing email, you’ll be far better equipped to deal with the threat. Thankfully, the majority of phishing emails are automated and come with several warning signs like:

  • You’ve won a prize in a competition you’ve never entered.
  • You’re asked to cough up money up front for a scheme/investment/prize.
  • The email is badly written or imploring you to act RIGHT NOW.
  • The email is non-personal and could have been sent to just about anyone. Look out for generic greetings like ‘Dear sir/madam’, especially if it’s your personal email.
  • If you hover over the links or sender address, a garbled string of text or random email pops up. 

2. Keep up to date with the latest scams

While knowing how to spot a phishing email is a huge step in the right direction, keeping up to date with scams is also helpful. Hackers and scammers literally work in the business of swindling money from people. They need their scams to work, so in many cases they are investing in better technology and smarter tech.

Regularly Google phishing scams and read online security blogs.

3. Keep track of your statements/accounts

This step is largely precautionary, but it could help you catch a scam attempt. Make sure you take a proper look at your bank statements. If any of the purchases seem off, call your bank and ask them to take a look at it for you. Nine times out of ten, it will be fine – but you’ll be very glad you got it sorted the one time it is a scam!

4. Up your security game

While antimalware protection won’t stop you from entering your bank details into a spoof version of PayPal, it will stop you from downloading and running a virus or keylogger that could cause untold damage.

Make sure you install trusted antivirus software and keep it updated so it can protect you from current and emerging threats. While clicking a link in an email might not seem too troubling, you could inadvertently end up with an empty bank account or stolen identity.

Scary!

Likewise, never enter personal information on a page you’re linked to from an email. If you really want to access the site, enter the URL manually and log in that way. It’s a bit of a nuisance, sure, but it could be worth it in the long run!

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