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Encompass® Insurance Insights & Articles

Don't Get Caught: How to Avoid Phishing Scams

In today's digital age, we receive many emails throughout the day. Have you ever received one that you questioned where it came from or if it was legitimate? Today's phishing scams are much more sophisticated than they use to be. Many appear to be so legitimate that they can trick even the most tech-savvy person. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that phishing schemes cost Americans more than $57 million annually.

A man looking at phishing scam computer screen.

Here's how to recognize and avoid common online scams.

What Is Phishing?

Phishing has been around since the mid-1990s, when hackers (then called "phreaks") stole America Online user passwords and attempted to use algorithms to create credit card numbers. Though the hacks weren't successful on a large scale, they still caused financial damage.

The term "phishing" stems both from the spelling of "phreaks" and from the nature of the scam itself. In a phishing attack, the scammer attempts to hook their victim using lures or bait in the form of fake emails or websites that look legitimate.

Phishing emails usually appear to come from a company, organization or government agency that you trust. Scammers have gotten very good at replicating the formatting of emails from banks, stores, credit card companies, online payment sites and even the Internal Revenue Service. It can be very difficult to tell that an email isn't legitimate.

While the scams may be different, most have one of two goals:

  • Baiting you into giving away your valuable information, such as your bank account, Social Security number or credit card number
  • Luring you to click a link that then infects your computer with harmful malware

Common Online Scams

The best way to protect yourself against phishing attempts is by knowing how to recognize a fraudulent message. According to the FTC, many phishing scams tell a story that's designed to trick you into opening an attachment or clicking on a link. Common scams include:

  • Requesting you to change your password
  • Notifying you of suspicious activity on an account
  • Asking you to confirm personal information
  • Saying there's a problem with your payment
  • Requiring you to click a link to make a payment
  • Attaching a fake invoice to an email
  • Claiming you're owed a refund from the government
  • Offering a coupon or a free gift

How to Protect Yourself

Fortunately, Internet browsers such as Google block a high percentage of fraudulent sites and emails. However, some still get through. Protect yourself by:

  • Installing security software and setting it to automatically update
  • Using multi-factor identification on your accounts
  • Backing up your data regularly to an external hard drive or cloud storage account
  • Keeping your mobile devices updated
Remember: Always stop and think before you click. If you are sure you're on a trusted site, it's OK to click. Just keep in mind that phishing techniques are sophisticated, and it can be hard to tell the real thing from a fake.

You can verify a site's security by looking for "https" at the front of the URL and a closed lock icon on the address bar. Also keep your eye open for such red flags as misspellings and grammatical errors.

Finally, never give out your personal information. Legitimate companies and agencies rarely ask for this type of information to be shared online. If you're in doubt, pick up the phone and call the organization directly.

While phishing scams can be hard to detect, these steps can help you protect yourself.

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ECC Monitor: OK