Is That Text or Email Real or a Phishing Scam? How to Tell 

Oh, there it is again! A text message from your long-lost relative saying that you’ve won a million dollars. Your email also pings – your favorite online store is giving away designer goods for free. How exciting, right? However, as much as we’d love for these to be true, they could very well be phishing scams. 

Phishing Scams: A Quick Overview 

Phishing scams are deceptive tactics employed by cybercriminals to ‘fish’ for your sensitive information

Phishing scams can take various forms: questionable emails, suspicious text messages, or even phone calls. They impersonate trustworthy entities – could be your bank, a popular retailer, or even a government agency – attempting to lure you into revealing personal details, such as passwords, credit card numbers, and social security numbers – the whole shebang! 

These cyber criminals rely on cleverly crafted stories to get you to bite the bait. You might receive a message about a fraudulent charge on your account, an unpaid invoice, a lottery win, or a fantastic promotional offer. These are all designed to provoke a reaction, whether it’s fear, excitement, or simply curiosity. 

The end game? To exploit your information for malicious activities such as unauthorized purchases, identity theft, or to gain access to your other accounts. The consequences can be devastating, which is why understanding and identifying these scams becomes vital in our lives. 

The Psychology of Phishing 

To dive deeper into the phishing phenomenon, we must learn about the psychological games that scammers play. The temptation of a too-good-to-be-true offer taps into our desire for a windfall, while an urgent notice from our ‘bank’ triggers fear. By understanding these tactics, we are better equipped to resist them. 

Phishing scams are carefully crafted to exploit our cognitive biases. For instance, the ‘scarcity bias’ makes us value opportunities that are running out (limited-time offers), while the ‘authority bias’ makes us more likely to trust and comply with figures of authority (emails supposedly from banks or government agencies). When we recognize these biases, we’re less likely to be taken in by these scams.

Identify the Red Flags: Here’s How! 

Knowing how to identify a phishing scam is essential. Here are some key pointers to consider: 

It Sounds Too Good to Be True 

When an offer is as luring as an ice cream truck on a hot summer day, it’s time to activate all your senses. If the message says you’ve won the lottery you never entered or you’ve been selected for a free luxury vacation, remember the age-old wisdom – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. 

Poor Grammar and Spelling 

Phishing scams are like those rushed school assignments, full of spelling and grammar mistakes. If an email or text is littered with such errors, especially from an organization that’s typically scrupulous about its communication, chances are it’s not genuine. 

Urgency and Threats 

A common tactic in phishing scams is to create a sense of urgency or threat. If the text or email insists on immediate action – such as verifying your account details to avoid suspension – it’s time to put on your detective hat. 

Suspicious Links and Attachments 

Phishing emails and texts often include links or attachments. These digital baits are designed to steal your information or infect your device with malware. Be wary if the message urges you to click a link or download an attachment. 

More Tools And Tactics to Avoid Cybercriminals 

Since we learned about potential red flags and how to look for them, let’s talk about other methods that can be used in the fight against hackers. 

VPNs and Antivirus Software 

A VPN, or a Virtual Private Network, securely encrypts internet connections, protecting online activity and enhancing user privacy, while antivirus software helps you to fight malware. By employing a VPN on a router and purchasing antivirus software, you can enjoy the online world with an added layer of security. 

Verify, Don’t Trust 

Remember, scammers are experts, blending into their surroundings. If you receive a suspicious email or text, verify it independently. Reach out to the organization through their official website or contact number, not through the details provided in the suspicious message.

Help! I Think I’ve Been Phished! 

Sadly, even the best of us can get hooked by a well-crafted phishing scam. If you think you’ve fallen for one, don’t panic. There are steps you can take to limit the damage: 

Change Your Passwords. Start by changing the passwords of the compromised accounts. If you use the same password across multiple platforms, change those too. ● Contact Financial Institutions. If your financial information was compromised, contact your bank or credit card company immediately. They can help secure your accounts or issue new cards if necessary. 

Report the Phishing Scam. Reporting phishing emails to responsible institutions. Many email providers also have ‘report phishing’ options. 

Monitor Your Accounts. Keep a close eye on your financial statements and credit reports for any signs of unauthorized activity. Some credit monitoring services can alert you if there’s a change in your credit report.