How to Avoid Phishing Scams
Phishing is an age-old Internet pothole. It’s survived since the early ages of AOL chatrooms for one simple reason: It really works. The setup is simple: A bad guy poses as a trusted entity online to steal your personal information.
Just ask the U.S. government, which we recently learned has adopted phishing techniques to spy on millions of people. It’s probably about time you learn a little about how to avoid getting phished yourself, no?
What is phishing?
Phishing is the online version of being conned. Imagine Leonardo DiCaprio’s character from Catch Me If You Can but less charming. These scammers sit at their computers and pretend to be legitimate trusted companies (like Microsoft or Netflix) as a way of tricking you into handing over personal details like login info, credit card numbers and sometimes even money.
How can it happen to me?
Phishing comes in many forms: emails that seem like they’re from Wells Fargo or Facebook, instant messages or communications from people on popular social networks like Twitter or Facebook. It all starts with a link. Once you click it, you’re redirected to a pharming website that looks identical to whichever company the scammer is posing as. You’re then prompted to enter your login information.
From there, scammers might lure you to other sites or try to trick you into downloading attachments that unleash viruses, keystroke-tracking software or other malware.
I’m pretty sure I’d know if I was being scammed.
You are most certainly an intelligent human being who can smell the stink of a sleazy salesman or a tourist trap. But when it comes to phishing, you might be less savvy than you think. Last year, researchers at North Carolina State University asked a group of 53 undergraduates to distinguish malicious emails from legitimate ones, and nearly everyone in the group failed. Keep in mind that these were students, meaning that they were likely young Internet natives. In other words, scammers are getting just as sophisticated as the people they’re exploiting.
OK, OK. What are a few things I should look out for?
Glad you asked! Here’s the super-simple version:
• Don’t click on hyperlinks in emails from people you don’t know. This piece of advice is a little less obvious than you think. Yes, your mother, husband, sister and aunt are not trying to send you spam. But that doesn’t mean that their email accounts aren’t vulnerable to being hacked. So always make sure to hover your mouse over the linked phrase in question. Usually the address of the item will pop up in a gray box at the bottom-left corner of your browser. Like so:
If it doesn’t look familiar, steer clear.