The phrase “Forewarned is forearmed” couldn’t ring more true when it comes to protecting yourself from online or cell phone intrusions like phishing scams. If you know something is potentially threatening, you’re better prepared to deal with the situation than if you had no knowledge at all.
This is especially the case when it comes to educating yourself about the types of sophisticated phishing scams, and variations of those techniques, that are now part of our cyberspace. You may have heard the words “phishing,” “vishing,” and “smishing” – but just what do they mean and how can they be damaging to you?
All three scams are intended to surreptitiously obtain personal information, such as Social Security numbers, driver’s license information and bank account and credit card information. Unfortunately, thousands of people fall prey to these phishing scams every year, resulting in millions of dollars being siphoned off by cyber crooks. Let’s take a closer look at each type of scam.
Phishing scams have been around for quite some time. It is what it sounds like – someone fishing for valuable information, but using e-mail trickery as bait. It often comes in the form of a message from a credit card company or bank, warning that your account may be in jeopardy unless you click on a link or attachment within the message and provide sensitive information, such as your Social Security number or checking account number. Many of these links will take you to websites that look legitimate but are just fronts for luring in unsuspecting consumers.
If your instincts tell you it looks or seems fishy, then it probably is. The best way to find out is to not click on any links, open any attachments or go to any suggested websites and, instead, personally contact the company in question directly using contact information independent of what’s provided in the phishing scam message.
Vishing uses phone calls instead of e-mails to initiate contact with a consumer. Basically the same approach is used as with phishing scams, with the caller urging you to surrender personal information that they can then use to commit fraud. Be aware that no reputable bank, credit card company or similar institution would call you and ask for such sensitive information as your Social Security number. If you encounter such calls, hang up and notify the company that the caller supposedly represents of any suspicious activity.
Cyber thieves also try to draw in people with smishing, which uses bogus text messages. This cellular variation of phishing is obviously targeted at cell phone users, who are typically instructed to call a phone number or go to a website.
More tips and advice about common security issues like these phishing scams, for non-technical computer users, is available from the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, an agency within the Department of Homeland Security. Go to https://www.us-cert.gov/ncas/tips.