There are many threats online today. “Phishing” scams are attempts to fools you into granting access to your computer or handing over sensitive information. These scams are highly successful and probably the least technological means of obtaining your information as it doesn’t involve hacking just trickery. When they are successful the victim simply hands over whatever is asked of them. Staying safe involves continually doing our best to determine what is real and what isn’t.
From the time that people first realized that being connected to the Internet posed a risk, the solution has been to install software for protection. While software applications can offer some protection against malware, spyware, and virus infections those aren’t a guarantee of protection. Security software alone is not sufficient.
Prior to the Internet age protecting one’s self from scams, frauds, and hucksters involved maintaining awareness and backing that up with a healthy dose of skepticism. While the Internet provides new dangers the golden rule of staying on your toes still applies. Phishing scams are an online version of the same social engineering that has been around forever. Countless people have been coerced into giving out personal information via phone or face-to-face conversation, the Internet is just a new method of the old scams.
When something sounds too good to be true, it pretty much always is. Most of us have learned that when we receive that email from a Nigerian prince promising to share a massive fortune that we shouldn’t respond. Phishing scammers learn too and now know to present their scams in other ways. Email scams now offer both good and bad repercussions to ignoring their message. You may see a warning indicating that an account may be closing, or income tax is overdue in addition to grandiose offers of free wealth designed to tempt you into opening an attachment or clicking on a link. The key to avoiding these issues is a little bit of awareness and knowledge.
Those who perpetrate these scams often must do so in a language that is not their native tongue. Watch closely in email messages for poor spelling or grammar. These can often indicate that the message was written by a scammer. When simple words are misspelled or misused that should generate a red flag for you to be cautious if you decide to read the rest of the message.
Any email suggesting that you “need to log in to your account”, advising that “your invoice is overdue”, or telling you that “you have a message or package waiting” is always suspect and likely a phishing scam. Phishing scammers need you to create the vulnerability that gives them access to your computer or your accounts. Making you think that you really need to click on the provided link to resolve a problem or acquire a prize lends urgency to their message and is intended to make you leap without thinking. Knowing that these types of emails are often fake allows you to deny them your assistance.
Any email with a link in it should be carefully analyzed. Hover your mouse cursor over the link and you’ll find that the actual web address that the link would take you to will pop up. Read those links carefully. If you don’t recognize the address you can delete the message. If the message appears to be coming from paypal.com but that address shows as gibberish like “http://3847yhlkajsd.com” then those two pieces of information clearly don’t line up and the message can be deleted.
Some addresses are carefully constructed to look like an address that you would recognize. For example if you were to want to go to “google.com” then you would know that a link pointing to “google.com” would take you there. A link that says “google.site.com” is potentially dangerous as it does not take you to “google.com” but in points to a server address called “google” at “site.com”. The link might look like it’s safe as it says “google” but it’s carefully constructed to be something other than it appears at first glance.
These are merely the basic steps for avoiding phishing scams. As the scammers get more experienced the scams get more creative and more convincing. The only method for staying safe is staying aware. When in doubt, reach out to your friendly, neighbourhood computer person to ask a few questions.
Kevin Davison is a Guelph-based computer consultant for Kadence Solutions. He has over 20 years of experience in computer and network management. Kevin also possesses expertise in telecommunications systems, home automation, electronic security systems and various residential and commercial electronics. http://kadencesolutions.ca