If you have a cellphone, tablet, laptop or PC, odds are you’ve received at least a few messages through the years with suspicious links – that you hopefully did not click.
Phishing is the fraudulent practice of sending emails or other messages purporting to be from reputable companies in order to trick you into sharing personal information such as passwords, credit card information or to send money.
Phishing through digital messages pretending to be from legitimate companies to compromise your devices and personal information is among scammers’ favorite tactics. According to the Federal Trade Commission, consumers lost nearly $8.8 billion to fraud in 2022, a more than 30% increase from 2021.
While scammers are constantly evolving their tactics to stay one step ahead, there are things you can do to better protect yourself. Here are tips to help protect yourself from phishing scams.
How Phishing Works
Phishing is when scammers masquerade as a legitimate business or personal contact and try to get you to click a link they sent via email, text message, social media and more to install malicious software that will allow them to compromise your device. Scammers also regularly spoof legitimate websites and phone numbers for banks and businesses to make their messages seem authentic.
Some common tactics include claiming you have a package being held for delivery, stating the government “owes you money” that you need to “claim,” and even pretending to be contacting you about potential fraud on your accounts. This is why it is vital to know what a bank impersonation scam looks like, how your bank will communicate with you, and what information your bank will and won’t ask for when they do contact you.
Scammers will also use pressure tactics and try to create a sense of urgency for you to click the link, send them money or sensitive information to get you to act without thinking. Remember to take a deep breath and think before clicking.
How to Protect Yourself
Steps you can take to protect yourself include:
- Never click links in messages you were not expecting to receive. If something seems off in a message, delete it without clicking links and contact the business directly using the phone number listed on their official website.
- Keep your devices’ operating systems, software—including anti-malware programs— Using virtual private networks (VPNs) when connecting to the internet can also add a layer of protection.
- Scan any external devices you’re connecting, such as USB drives, for malware to prevent your device from being infected.
- Use caution whenever downloading or opening attachments, especially from unknown senders, and avoid clicking pop-ups and banner ads, as scammers may be using them to put viruses or spyware on your device.
- Use two-factor authentication wherever possible to add a layer of security to your accounts.
If You’ve Been a Victim
- Have your devices professionally cleaned of any malware and change all your usernames and passwords, including for your financial accounts.
- Contact your bank immediately to freeze your accounts, get new account numbers, debit and credit cards. Keep a close eye on your accounts as well to identify any fraudulent purchases.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit report with Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
- File a report with the police, the Federal Trade Commission (reportfraud.ftc.gov)and Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3.gov).
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