By Praveen Kannan and Anna Strokolyst The Hotspot Shield team believes the internet should be open and secure …
Phishing scams are any attempts by con artists, hackers, or other criminals to gain access to someone’s computer, financial information, or other personal items in order to cause harm.
Phishing scams are nothing new, though they have become much more sophisticated as technology has evolved. Phishing scams are also becoming more prevalent, which is why it’s crucial to be on alert and to know what some of these phishing scams look like. By being aware of the following phishing scams, you can avoid falling into their traps.
Phishing Scams Look Normal
Many phishing scams tend to look quite normal to the average Internet user. Even more experienced web-surfers may have a difficult time differentiating a phishing scam from something legitimate, given the level of sophistication involved.
The more you know about the following seven phishing scams, the more you can be on the lookout for them in order to protect yourself:
1. Emails from Friends
Here’s the scenario… You log in to your email account and see a message from a friend. It’s kind of an odd message, making it sound like your friend is either distressed and needs help, or is excited about a “new opportunity” that he or she simply must share with you.
Your friend provides a link so that you can visit the website to understand what he or she is talking about or to send money. It seems harmless, so you click on the link.
You may have just fallen victim to one of the most common phishing scams around. The link can either expose your computer to a virus or other tracking program, or it can take you to a malicious website where you could end up handing over your personal information to a criminal source.
If you receive an email from a friend and it seems unusual, send a new email to confirm who sent it. Don’t hit ‘reply’—compose a brand new email. If you prefer, have your friend call you so that you can be sure of what’s truly going on.
2. Pictures or Attachments to Emails
Most of us have fallen for this at one time or another: you receive an email from a friend with pictures of animals or something cute or funny attached. You click on the picture to download it, but what you don’t realize is that you’re downloading a virus.
This virus could end up connecting to a malicious site and sending off personal information about you that it gathers from your files, which could include your bank account details or other financial information.
3. Fake Social Media Profiles
Social media has become an integral part of people’s daily lives. If you’re on Facebook, for example, you may have connected with a number of friends and family members. The more people you have in your network, the tougher it is to keep track of them all.
Phishing scam artists are now building fake profiles using pictures of other people and then trying to “add” their friends. The friends may think they were un-friended by mistake and simply click “add friend” to the hacker’s profile.
If you have a request like this, check to see if your friend is still connected to you, and if he or she is still there, report the new profile and tell your friend what happened. Avoid clicking any links sent by private message from these new “friends”, as these links likely represent phishing scams.
4. Nigerian Bank Scams
One of the oldest phishing scams running, the Nigerian bank scam typically begins with an email informing you that either you won the lottery or that you had a wealthy relative in another country who left you part of his or her estate. All you need to do to gain access to this incredible wealth is provide your bank account information, and the money will be wired to you.
Never even consider the possibility. If you truly have inherited wealth, a lawyer will contact you directly, usually through a certified letter or other official means, and you’ll have to go to an office and discuss the transfer of all that money. Nigerian phishing scams are easy to spot, so never share your bank information online with someone you don’t know.
5. Fake Notice from Your Bank
You receive a notice from your bank saying that you need to update your online profile, or check on it because there is suspected fraudulent activity on it. Of course, you’re going to worry. The link provided takes you to a website that looks like your bank’s, but make sure to check the web address above the page… it’s usually not your bank.
Your bank will never send you a message asking you to log in. If there is suspected fraudulent activity, they will contact you another way. If you are ever concerned, call your bank’s official phone number to confirm that your account is actually safe.
6. Harmful Websites
Occasionally, you may conduct a search for a website, click on the link, and end up at a malicious site. You may not know it’s malicious unless you have an anti-spam program running. As a result, it’s important to protect yourself by using a quality virus protection program any time you connect to the Internet.
7. “Man in the Middle” Attacks
One of the toughest phishing scams to detect and deter are “man in the middle” attacks. These involve malicious websites that look legitimate; they may even appear to be the real website of the company you’re looking for, though they are fake. The goal of a phishing scammer is to gain access to any information you type in, such as your login details or credit card information, which can be collected via fraudulent websites.
Always check the website address displayed in your browser window after clicking on links to make sure you haven’t been rerouted to a fake site. Also, use a high quality anti-spam and Internet protection program to help minimize the possibility of falling victim to this type of attack.
Keeping your personal information protected while online is a challenge that continues to grow and evolve. Remain vigilant, and only share information when you know the website or person you’re communicating with is legitimate.