Phishing is a method cybercriminals use to access sensitive information through what appear to be legitimate means—such as emails, text messages, or advertisements. These cybercriminals are “fishing” for individuals’ pertinent information for their benefit.
During phishing attacks, cybercriminals disguise themselves as reputable organizations so victims are lured into disclosing login credentials, credit card numbers, social security numbers, and other identifiable information.
These increasingly sophisticated fraudulent communications can also install malware on your electronic devices. This harmful software manipulates the normal operations of your devices—locking up files, stealing login information, spamming you with ads, spying on your activity, and redirecting you to malicious websites.
Once cybercriminals gain access to your personal information, it’s only a matter of time until it leads to financial loss and even identity theft. Learning how to identify and prevent phishing attempts is crucial for keeping your identity and finances safe.
Recognizing Phishing Attempts
Cybercriminals often use the following methods to trick victims into clicking on links or opening attachments:
- Claiming there’s a problem with your account or that they’ve noticed suspicious activity
- Claiming there’s a problem with your payment information, or asking you to click on a link to make a payment or update information
- Asking you to confirm personal information
- Congratulating you on being approved for a loan, eligible for a government refund, selected as a prize winner, etc.
You can learn to identify these scamming emails, texts, or advertisements by looking for the following characteristics:
- Generic greetings and unfamiliar names
- Incorrect grammar and spelling errors
- Inconsistencies in emails, names of companies, URLs, etc.
- Fake invoices or suspicious attachments
- Urgent language and scare tactics
Preventing Phishing Attacks
Falling victim to cyber scams can have extensive and long-term effects. While everyone is susceptible, the following steps can help prevent cybercriminals from taking advantage of you and accessing your personal information:
- Don’t fall for urgent language or scare tactics encouraging you to click links, open attachments, or share personal information
- Protect your computer by installing security software and keeping it updated
- Regularly review financial accounts and examine them for suspicious activity
- Use multi-factor authentication (requiring at least two login credentials) to keep your accounts safe
- Back up data to an external hard drive or save it to the cloud
- Be wary of prizes or free offers. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
When Fraud is Suspected
Phishing attempts get tricky when the organization the communication claims to be coming from is actually a company you are associated with in some capacity.
What should you do if, for example, you receive an email from what appears to be your bank, but perhaps addresses you generically with “Hello Dear One,” claims you are eligible for a loan you didn’t apply for, or wants you to download an attachment?
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, don’t click on, open, or download anything—and don’t share any personal information.
Verify the legitimacy of the communication by using contact information you know is correct. Don’t reply to the message or use any phone numbers, emails, or websites provided in the message.
If you discover that there is indeed attempted fraud, or you aren’t sure, you’ll want to report the communication to the Federal Trade Commission—and then delete it for good.
If you do fall for a phishing attempt, be sure to change your passwords, contact credit agencies to put a fraud alert or freeze on your credit, and get in touch with your financial institutions and credit card companies. Continue to regularly check your accounts for suspicious activity and update protective software.
A Final Word on Phishing
Your security is our priority. At Sunrise Banks, we offer secure services and utilize regulatory safeguards to ensure your assets are safe.
But we go even further in our online security center, which includes information on current fraud trends, steps to protect your personal finances, and ways to keep your businesses safe and secure.