Have you ever received an email asking you to click on an unsolicited link? The sender may disguise themselves as a friend, a family member, or even a company you’ve dealt with in the past. If so, you may have been targeted by a phishing attack. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Statistics, phishing attempts increased at a rate of 7% from 2020 to 2021 alone. This means it’s more important than ever to know how to recognize and avoid this common cybercrime.
Unfortunately, phishing attacks aren’t limited to email. Cybercriminals also trick their victims through pop-up alerts, false WiFi networks, texts, and other social engineering methods. Although phishing scams continue to grow more sophisticated by the year, here are some tips to help you stay one step ahead of cybercriminals and safeguard your personal info.
How to avoid falling for phishing scams
The more informed you are about all the different types of phishing scams, the safer your personal information will be. Cybercriminals are becoming more creative in their phishing attacks (spear phishing is an excellent example of this), and are constantly devising new ways to con innocent web users. However, there are plenty of tricks you can master to avoid phishing and to protect your data, even if a cybercriminal crashes straight into your inbox pretending to be your bank representative, credit card company, or high school sweetheart!
Recognize the signs of a phishing attack
Before you can protect yourself from phishing attacks, you need to learn how to spot them. Recognizing phishing scams can protect both your locally-stored data and online accounts, and keep your private data far from criminals’ hands.
Whenever you receive an unfamiliar email or text message, immediately search for these common signs that indicate you may be dealing with a phishing scam:
- Typos and misspelled words
- Urgent language
- Email addresses that don’t include the company or organization’s name
- Unsolicited requests for your personal information
Paying attention to these warning signs could keep you from becoming a cybercrime statistic!
Keep your personal information to yourself
When browsing the internet, you should take every possible step to protect your personal information. Never provide sensitive data like your social security number, financial account information, or address to anyone over the phone or internet unless you can verify the source is trusted. If you find yourself questioning the validity of the person you’re talking with even a little bit, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
For example, if you receive an unsolicited email from a retailer you’ve shopped at before claiming there was some sort of payment issue with an order you didn’t place, don’t just blindly click the links and input your personal info. Instead, research the official phone number or email of the company they’re claiming to work for, and call them up to verify that they actually sent the message to you.
Think before you click
Never click links or open attachments that are sent by unknown email addresses and phone numbers. If you do this, it might not seem like anything unusual has happened. However, some phishing attacks, especially those focused on social engineering, may contain malware or ransomware that will infect your device and pull your personal information. Also, be cautious of anything that sounds too good to be true, such as gift card scams or claims you won a contest you don’t remember signing up for.
Use anti-phishing software and tools
As phishing attacks become more sophisticated, so does the technology to fight back against them. There are various anti-phishing tools you can use to prevent hackers from targeting you.
Some anti-phishing tools you might want to explore are:
- Firewalls: Firewalls have many functions, but one of their most useful features is built-in phishing protection. After installation, your firewall of choice scans each website you visit for malware, and blocks your access to anything that could expose your personal information.
- Antivirus software: Recognizing phishing attacks can be difficult. That’s why you need decent antivirus software to keep you and your family safe from cyberattacks. Antivirus software can block malicious emails that come from suspicious sources, and recognize common phrases that are popular in phishing scams to filter those nefarious emails as well.
Keep your browser up to date
Your computer and smartphone are engineered with cybercrime protection in mind, but you still need to play an active role in defending your devices. Keep your browsers and operating systems updated to ensure you’re using the most secure version for your device. Never ignore software updates from the manufacturer, because they often provide fixes to bugs and patch up security holes that give hackers easy access to your personal information.
Prevent phishing emails from reaching your inbox
When it comes to avoiding phishing attacks, knowledge and diligence are key. A discerning eye can protect you from even the most sophisticated scammers.
However, even the most vigilant web surfers slip up sometimes. So if you fall for a phishing scam, change any relevant passwords and scan your device for malware. You also might want to set up fraud alerts on your accounts to make sure that there’s no unauthorized access to them. Next, report the phishing attack to the company the criminal was impersonating, along with the Federal Trade Commission. This will make others aware of the phishing scam so the criminals are less successful in the future.
Curious about even more ways to protect your personal info? Explore the Quantum Fiber blog for more great tips to stay one step ahead of cybercriminals!