Even without fancy technology, equipment or advanced knowledge of how the web works, hackers find ways to collect private information from unknowing users all the time. One of the ways they do this is through a technique called phishing.
When identity thieves impersonate corporations, banks, government organizations or other people in order to secure your private information, that’s phishing. Unlike spam, which is usually just a nuisance that can clutter up your inbox with junkmail, phishing can have terrible consequences– if you take the bait.
You’ve no doubt received these kinds of e-mails in the past, with pleas for money or information. Many times the tone is odd. Though you might not know exactly why, you can tell something seems off.
Phishing can be divided into two main categories. With mass phishing, identity thieves cast their net wide, e-mailing hundreds, thousands or even millions of users. Typically, phishers take on the identity of a person or organization that you trust. They may include an urgent call to action, telling you that if you don’t confirm or submit personal information, your account could be terminated. Here’s one example of what a mass phishing attempt could look like.
Notice anything peculiar? E-mails that are actually mass phishing attempts usually contain errors in grammar and spelling. They also usually contain a link to an outside website that could trigger malware downloads. This e-mail also includes a threat, which states that a lack of action on behalf of the user could result in negative consequences.
What should you do if you suspect you’re being phished? Whatever you do, don’t reply to the message with your personal information or click on any links. Block incoming e-mail from that particular address. You can also report suspicious activity to your Internet Service Provider. If someone is impersonating a trusted financial institution you belong to, contact your bank and let them know right away.
The US Department of Homeland Security also collects information regarding ongoing e-mail scams, so if you think you’re being phished, you can file a report with US-CERT, the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team.
People who are less web savvy are more prone to trusting incoming requests for personal information. If your friends or relatives are very late adopters of e-mail, make sure they know about the dangers of mass phishing and how best to spot the warning signs. Senior citizens, young adults and children are particularly vulnerable.
It’s also important to consider the fact that although you may be conscious of phishing and take care not to disclose your most private information to strangers, someone out there might be impersonating you or your company! Make sure your identity is secure so that potential phishers won’t find it easy to pretend to be you on the web.
Next up on our blog: spear phishing, a growing trend in 2013.
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