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The Best Ways to Avoid a Phishing Scam

Gone are the days when fishing was a pleasant pastime for a sunny afternoon. Today, fishing has become phishing, and just like the fish who ends up in someone’s frying pan, biting the wrong hook can put you in a position you don’t want to be in. It’s important, therefore, to know the best ways to avoid a phishing scam.

What is Phishing?

Although the name sounds pretty harmless, phishing is anything but. It is a cybercrime that uses email, telephone, or text message in an attempt to obtain sensitive data, such as personal information, passwords, banking information, and more. It can result in identity theft or financial loss, among other things.

The would-be scammer typically sends an email that is designed to look like legitimate communication, or something that piques your interest enough for you to open it, putting your security in danger.

How to Protect yourself

By far, the most effective manner in which to keep yourself safe is to be informed on phishing techniques. By simply being aware, you reduce your risk of falling prey to scams. Some common things to watch for include:

  • Eye-catching subject lines that seem designed to entice you to click on them, sometimes including statements like “Urgent” or “Respond Immediately”.
  • Attachments that don’t make sense, or which you weren’t expecting. These can often contain ransomware or other viruses. The only file type that is always safe to click on is a .txt file.
  • An unknown or unusual sender might be an indicator that all is not as it seems.
  • Hyperlinks may not be safe. Hovering over them usually reveals where they will take you once clicked. Sometimes, this may be one website designed to look like another. For example, there may be a misspelling in the name that goes unnoticed with a casual glance. Always check carefully.

Any time an email looks suspicious, it is best to follow your instincts. While it may be completely harmless, there is always the chance that it could be an attempt at phishing, so do not open it unless it can be verified as legitimate.

What to Do When You Discover a Phishing Attempt

If you are unable to confirm the legitimacy of a suspicious email, or alternately, if you confirm it as a phishing attempt, there are a number of actions that you should and should not take:

  • Do not forward the emails. You may think that it is wise to do so in order to inform others of the potential scam, however the recipients will see it coming from you– a trusted source– and may assume it safe to open.
  • Unsubscribe from the sender when the option is available.
  • You can safely ignore and delete the suspect email.
  • Contact your IT department. They will be able to investigate the email and block the domain it originated from, and may be able to mass delete the email from all mailboxes that received it.
  • Do not fill out any forms or provide any personal information.
  • As mentioned above, do not click on any attached files, as they may contain viruses.
  • Use your junk file. You can right-click on the email and mark it as junk. This will flag the specific sender’s email address or domain as junk from your email profile so future ones don’t make it into your inbox. They will instead be sent to the junk folder which you can later delete.

Remember that phishing attempts are made quite often, and can be quite convincing. Follow your instincts. If something seems wrong, it may very well be wrong. Ensure your safety by remaining up-to-date with common scams, and watch for the warning signs. Don’t let the scammers get the best of you!