Many of the important documents that were once sent through physical mail now come via email, and you also can pay bills, bank, trade stocks, and more online. Unfortunately, with this new reality, there also are new threats. Identity thieves have discovered ways to take advantage of our increasingly tech-centric world through cons such as email “phishing” scams.
What Does a Phishing Scam Look Like?
Phishing is about stealing personally identifiable information. The phisher sends an email that looks like it’s from a legitimate business, like a bank, credit card provider, or the IRS, and asks potential victims to verify personal information. For example, the email might ask for a home address, credit card number, ATM personal identification number, or Social Security number.
In many cases, these emails urge the reader to act right away, threatening some kind of consequence: account termination, a late fee, or a fine. The email then directs the reader to click on a link that goes to a website to enter personal information. In these cases, any information you enter will be stolen. In some cases, just clicking on the link or going to the website will allow malicious software to take over your computer.
How to Avoid Being a Victim
You can avoid phishing scams by keeping a few principles in mind. First, reputable companies and the government will not ask for sensitive personal information over email. And the principle “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is” applies here.
If you get an email asking for your Social Security number, bank account number, driver’s license number, or other related information, delete the email and don’t click on any links within it. Also, don’t call the phone numbers listed in this email because numbers can be spoofed, too.
If a suspicious email appears to be from a bank you have an account with, call them using the number on your bank card. They should be able to tell you if there’s anything you need to do about your account. They also can take steps to stop the scam or alert other customers.
Plenty of legitimate emails come from companies you know and do business with, but here are some indicators an email might be a scam:
- It contains misspellings and grammatical errors.
- It was sent from a free email account, such as Gmail or Yahoo, or contains a long list of characters and numbers.
- It claims you have won the lottery or a prize for a contest you never entered.