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When the Phish Are Biting

Anyone connected to the internet is bound to encounter that common scourge known as the phishing expedition. Phishing is an attempt to trick a victim into revealing personal information (credit card numbers, passwords, security details, etc.) or sending money.

Here are some warnings that might keep you from getting hooked.

  • Bad spelling and grammar should always raise the red flag. Yes, it is true that there are 6- and 7-figure CEOs, controlling businesses worth in the millions, who can't spell their way out of the eighth grade. But they control armies of lawyers, paralegals, and secretaries who can. Nothing representing the company is going out the door without being thoroughly vetted. The occasional typo may still slip through, but when the email is practically festive with red and green squiggly lines, you know it wasn't written by a professional.
  • You've already been warned about pushing buttons or other graphic links in an email, but sometimes not even an innocent-looking URL can be trusted.  It is possible to have the actual link be different from the one you're seeing on the page. To check for this sort of deception, let your cursor hover over the link. It will display the link in a pop-up; if that link is different from the text, you're being phished.
  • A relatively recent addition to the malware arsenal is the use of threats. It could be a warning that your account will be closed unless you fill out a form, or a claim to have found unlicensed software or pornography on your system, accompanied by a fine to be paid through an email link. Legitimate businesses and government agencies don't come at you through the email.
  • There's a rule dictated by common sense: if it's too good to be true, then there's a 99.99999% chance it's not true. A Nigerian prince is not going to pick you out of seven billion people in the world to aid him in absconding with his stolen millions. You can't have won some gigantic prize from a lottery you never heard of, let alone bought a ticket.
Most phishing emails can be recognized and deleted without a second thought. If ever you come across one that is so well-constructed it's not waving even one red flag, just follow these rules:
  • Don't open it - the subject and preview pane is usually more than enough to tell you what it's about.    
  • If if looks like something that should be investigated, do not click anywhere on the email. Instead, contact the company or agency that it supposedly comes from - using a number or email address that comes from a different and legitimate source - and ask if they sent it.

* Artwork provided by Binghamton University

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