“You got a $500 payment in your PayPal account! You just need to click here!” – Does this sound familiar?
According to a Kaspersky analysis (PDF), email phishing assaults climbed 87% between 2011 and 2013, with strangers contacting you purporting to be a bank or another genuine firm. This rise comes despite a decline in spam email rates from 2012 to 2013 (when genuine businesses send you advertisement-style emails).
We may assume that the change from spam to phishing indicates the fact that phishing emails are more successful at convincing email users like you and me to click on a link and give over our personal information to these scammers.
Because phishing is such a serious and rising security problem, we’ve covered it extensively here at MUO. Matt posted a fantastic essay in 2011 on phishing and how to spot it. We’ve offered updates on emerging phishing vulnerabilities throughout the years, such as the latest Google Login Page phishing operation in early 2014.
Be Vigilant AgainstFake Emails
If there’s one thing to remember here, it’s that education is the best protection against phishing. You will be able to adequately defend yourself if you are trained on basic techniques to detect a phishing assault or other email fraud. There is no program that will accomplish this for you. Nothing will stop you from clicking a link in an email, downloading a file, or accessing a bogus log in page. You are the final line of defense against these dangers.
In the past, we’ve discussed how to utilize technology to protect against phishing, such as DNS services and creating a browser phishing list, but there are certain features of incoming email that you may look for to detect and remove risky emails.
To entice you to click on that email link, email scammers will play on your emotions. Greed, guilt, compassion, desire, and fear are the most often expressed emotions. The first kind of phishing email I’d like to discuss is greed.
Until recently, these were the most typical kind of phishing emails.
Typically, they include some form of legal “recipient” arrangement in which someone need your assistance in paying a beneficiary outside of the nation. You get to be the middleman in a simple money transfer because you reside in a section of the globe that allows for such secure financial transactions free of government corruption. You are offered a very comfortable price as recompense for your services.
These emails often seem to be genuine, with a footer signature stating some massive company that couldn’t possible be engaged in such a scam, right? This is correct; nevertheless, the individual is not from that agency. The Nigerian 419 scam is an age-old deception. The number 419 refers to the Nigerian criminal code’s definition of fraud.
This hoax just asks you to respond via email, and once you do, they’ll begin weaving a lengthy and persuasive tale that will ultimately lead to you disclosing your bank account details.
By the way, not all of them directly reference Nigeria. Such phishing emails arrive in email accounts all across the globe, requesting aid with money transfers out of China, the Middle East, and other places.
These are genuine individuals, not bots, who will react to your emails. They could even sound convincing. They are crooks expecting for some poor sucker to respond to one of these emails. When you see this, hit the delete button fast. The only item that will be transmitted if you answer is money from your bank account.
People who believe this are not foolish. Check out this ZDnet video in which victim “Jill” confesses to losing over $300,000 over the course of four years.
Email fraudsters feed on more than simply negative human emotions. If you’re a lovely person, they’ll target you as well. One popular tactic is to send you an email impersonating as a charity. Most of the time, they are charities you’ve never heard of, rather than huge national or worldwide organizations, since the email address would have to be affiliated with that organization.
Instead, fraudsters will declare a vital project that they are “supporting” and will require your help. The email address is generally from a free email provider.
The account takeover and bulk email email fraud is an even more popular email scam. This is when one of your friends or acquaintances with an insecure email account has their email account hacked.
The hacker will then send emails to everyone on that person’s contact list, giving them a sob tale about being stuck someplace and in desperate need of money.
They wait for an email response, stretch out the narrative a little longer, and then urge you to pay money by Western Union or another wire transfer provider. I’ve even heard of folks having phone talks with these fraudulent men. One elderly woman was concerned that her nephew was trapped in France and almost gave him $3,000 before her relatives persuaded her differently.
You’re preoccupied. You can’t recall what you signed up for online last week, much alone last month. When some email fraudsters send you phishing emails alerting you that your application has been accepted or that you’ve won a contest you don’t recall participating, they’re depending on your lack of memory.
Because it’s so fantastic, the “Your application has been accepted” email is one of my faves. It’s particularly effective against folks who are very engaged online. You won’t remember applying, but your curiosity may get the better of you, and you click that link nonetheless. Everything else is history.
The “You are a winner” emails are even more prevalent. Everyone enjoys winning rewards, and sometimes the sums are so large that it’s difficult to resist responding to that email and “accepting” your gift.
Typically, in order to get your supposed wins, you must supply your bank information for “direct deposit.” What really occurs is a straight withdrawal!
These phishing emails are especially powerful since who doesn’t want to feel they’ve finally won something?
Here’s some suggestions to keep you safe from these con artists. If you can’t recall signing up for anything, chances are you didn’t. Please do not click that link. Instead, press “Delete.”
Looking for Love
You know how in marketing they say “sex sells”? Unfortunately, the same logic applies in the realm of email scammers. Every day, many emails are sent to primarily naïve males claiming to be from women seeking a lover, a date, an affair, or everything in between.
These con artists rely on you clicking on the link (often a tinyurl type link) or replying to the email itself, requesting to view the photographs or initiating a dialogue.
In these circumstances, you generally get a scam artist (usually a woman) replying to you and leading you along into finally signing up for some ridiculous online dating site in order to “continue the discussion in private.”
Worse, in other circumstances, the scam artist would appear to be in some kind of financial difficulty or danger, finally persuading the unwary victim (you) to send money in order to aid this poor, defenseless lady who is only searching for a guy to take care of her.
It goes without saying that you should disregard these emails. Unfortunately, the fact that they still exist implies that their success rate must be quite high. If you’re seeking for love, I strongly advise you to put your best foot forward on dating platforms, but replying to these emails will not bring you love. They’ll just hand you an empty wallet.
Using Fear Against You
The last most prevalent scam email is what I call the “Shock and Awe” strategy. Essentially, this is comparable to the age-old strategy of forging an email from a real firm such as Paypal or Facebook, but in this instance, the organization is a non-profit or government body in charge of public safety.
The email will warn you of something surprising that will attract your attention, such as the fact that local loan interest rates have reached rock bottom (“click here to obtain your cheap rates immediately!”) or, more lately, that a sex offender has relocated into your community.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: don’t click on links within emails like these! If you’re truly worried about the warning, mouse over the link and look at the URL in your browser’s status bar. If the URL is not visible in the status bar, right-click on the link and choose Copy Link Address.
Copy and paste the URL into Notepad to see where it will lead you.
What you’ll find is that it redirects to a goofy dot-com URL that you’re unlikely to recognize, rather than the.org or.gov URL you’d expect from a reputable institution.
The reality is that removing all of these emotions while interacting with your email inbox is the single most effective technique to protect yourself against phishing emails and scams that feed on human emotions like this. Most online email systems recognize most of these emails and move them to the spam folder, but when they don’t, your own common sense and vigilance will go a long way toward safeguarding you from the remainder.
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