Scammers are all around us, and they will use a variety of means to snare their next victim. It could be anything from promises for wealth to free products to claims to do good for others.
It’s so sad. And scary, especially when you don’t see a scam coming. Fortunately, there are some commonsense ways to identify and protect yourself from scams that you come across on your email and elsewhere online.
Email in particular has made it even more convenient than ever for scammers to cast a broad net and try to catch unwitting victims. Email phishing has occurred for just about as long as email has existed, for the simple reason that it continues to work.
The classic schemes are offers for millions of dollars from African princes or mysterious sweepstakes winnings. All you have to do is give them your banking information, Social Security Number, or credit card info. With these kinds of phishing emails, you know better (hopefully) than to fall for their outlandish promises.
But next to these clumsier efforts to get your financial information, there are subtler approaches, ones that may not be immediately identifiable as fake. You may get supposed communications from your bank, your boss, or the government, with links in them that actually lead to spoofed websites or that load malware onto your computer.
To avoid falling victim to email phishing scams:
- Hover your cursor over links to see if they go to legitimate websites.
- Verify the sender’s email.
- Note the tone and grammar of the email itself for errors.
- If you’re still unsure, don’t click on anything or reply to the email. Contact the supposed sender directly with a phone call or in-person visit to verify the legitimacy of the email.
With more sophisticated scamming efforts, this is where email phishing can lead. Scammers essentially create a duplicate of a legitimate website—same layout, logos, content, everything—with the intention of compelling you to log-in. By the time you realize that you are not actually on an official website, the scammer has your log-in information, which they can then use on the real website.
If a scammer goes to the effort of duplicating a website, they aren’t about to do anything halfway. That means that it can be difficult to tell if a site is fake or not. But there may be some tells.
In the main field where a site’s URL is shown, you should see what looks like a padlock right in front of the web address. The presence of that lock shows that the site and your connection to it is secure. But if you don’t see a lock, the opposite is probably true, which means you should leave the unsecure site asap. Also, while the page may look genuine, closer inspection could reveal small mistakes: a logo that has rough edges, colors that are just a bit paler or darker than normal. It could just feel…off.
Before entering any information, you can try the cursor hover technique over any links on the page to see where they actually go. And simply trust your instincts. If something seems weird about a site, just leave it.
And it’s as easy as that! For more information on ways to keep yourself, your finances, and other private information safe, go here.