Would You Take the Bait in a Phishing Scam?

“Phishing” is one of the most common scams that cyber criminals use because it can produce spectacular results with very little effort or expense on the part of the hacker. Phishing involves the use of an email, text message or phone call that appears to come from a trusted source or institution, vendor or company, but is actually from a third-party impostor. Phishing messages are intended to trick you into giving cyber criminals your information by asking you to update or confirm personal or online account information. Personal information and identity theft and/or payment scams are the motives behind most phishing scams. Thousands are phished – criminals only need one or two dupes to make it pay off.

Cyber criminals do their best to make phishing messages look official and legitimate. They will mimic real communications from the company or entity they are supposedly from by using the same layout, fonts, wording, message footers and copyright notices, etc. as official messages. They will often include corporate logos and even one or more links to the alleged sender’s real website. To make it more likely you will fall for the scam, phishing messages commonly involve urgent scenarios. They may suggest that you must reset your password because your account has been compromised by hackers or they may request that you login to your account to review an invoice or deal with an outstanding payment. Another common phishing scam is a call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft who will tell you your computer is infected and that you must go to a special website to download an update that will fix the problem. Phishing scams can also be a request to complete a survey or to give information to collect a prize you have won. They can also be requests for money supposedly from someone you know.

Many phishing messages will include a link or attachment that you are asked to click so you can update your information. After doing so, the webpage or attachment you will see (which will also have text and logos to make it look official) will prompt you to enter your name, account number, password and other personal information – thereby giving it to cyber criminals.

To make matters worse, clicking on links or attachments in phishing messages often causes malware to be downloaded to your computer as well. Could it happen to you? Would you fall for a phishing scam?

How to spot phishing messages

Phishing scams work because some people are gullible. If you get a phishing message from a bank and you don’t have an account there, you aren’t likely to fall for the scam. However, if you have an account at that bank, the message may look legitimate to you and you are more likely to fall for the scam. Here are some clues that can help you recognize a phishing message:

  • The link you are asked to visit is different from the company’s usual website URL
    (see the next paragraph).
  • The main part of the sender’s email address is not the same as the company’s usual email address.
  • Bad spelling and poor grammar.
  • The promise of receiving money or another big prize.
  • Anyone asking for money – even if you know them.

Checking the link you are asked to go to is one of the best ways to confirm that a message
is a phishing scam. Place your mouse over the link you are asked to go to (but don’t click on it!) and look at the taskbar in your browser window (usually at the lower left). It will show you the URL of the link. It should start with the proper characters in the proper website (e.g., lawpro.ca) and not a URL that appears unrelated (e.g.,://12.67.876/aed/1234/bnklogin). An unrelated URL virtually guarantees it is a phishing scam. Watch for small differences: “lawpro.com.tv” seems close, but is different!

Never respond to “phishing” requests for personal information in the mail, over the phone or online. Most importantly – this is probably the most common way that personal information is stolen – never ever reply to unsolicited or suspicious emails, instant messages or web pages asking for your personal information (e.g., usernames, passwords, SIN number, bank account numbers, PINs, credit card numbers, mother’s birth name or birthday), even if they appear to be from a known or trusted person or business. Legitimate businesses should never send you an email message asking to send your username, password or other information to them in an email message. If in doubt, call the company yourself using a phone number from a trusted source. Don’t use the number in the email – it could be fake too!

This article appeared in the December 2013 “Cybercrime and Law Firms” issue of LAWPRO Magazine. All Magazine articles can be found at www.lawpro.ca/magazinearchives

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Comments

  1. I like to think I can spot phishing emails, but worry more about “…clicking on links or attachments in phishing messages [which] often causes malware to be downloaded to your computer…” In a given week, my assistants and I receive hundreds of emails from clients, lawyers, clerks, legal assistants, mailing lists, realtors, lenders, process servers, courier companies, CLE providers, etc., etc. — and we’re obligated to review them, open the attachments and deal with the contents. It’s our job. Outlook catches most of the junk, but it’s inevitable that I will eventually open a file I shouldn’t.

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