Phishing Scams and Identity Theft – How to Protect Yourself

Phishing remains one of the most significant cyber threats and hits everyone from individuals to Google and Facebook. It’s common because it’s lucrative; in 2020, it cost individuals and businesses about $4.2 billion. Most phishing attacks are aimed at massive numbers of emails with the hope of catching a few, but a variant, spear phishing, targets specific companies.

So, how can you not get phished?

Don’t Click On Links in Unsolicited Emails
Emails that claim to come from your bank, PayPal, or another financial provider are suspect. Even if you are completely sure the email does come from that sender, always use an existing bookmark or type in the URL to make sure you are accessing an official website. One of the most common phishing tactics is to pretend to be the victim’s bank in order to get their login credentials and/or credit card number. These emails are often not personalized, while legitimate emails are.

Avoid Accepting Friend Requests from Total Strangers
Many phishers have switched from email to social media or mobile channels. If you get a message with a link in it, read it carefully before clicking. Make sure the person sending the request is somebody you know and is a legitimate account; look at what they post publicly, etc.

Never Send Financial Information via Email
Although some legitimate companies, especially in Europe, will ask for your credit card through email, never send it. Call them up instead. Either call them or arrange a specific time for them to call you before handing over the number.

Emails Claiming Taxes Are Owed Are Very Suspect
Be aware that government agencies and other companies generally don’t use email (or phone) for collections. Most will always send snail mail first.

Don’t Use Your Debit Card to Make Online Purchases
If a criminal gets your debit card, they have a direct line to your bank account, and it may be difficult to recover the stolen funds. If you want to protect yourself and your money, save your debit card for cash withdrawals and use your credit card for shopping.

Credit Cards Provide Protection When Shopping Online
Your credit card company will often flag a fraudulent charge and contact you within minutes. You can report the theft immediately and there is generally no risk of loss.

Phishing scams and identity theft are problems that are not going away any time soon. Keep an eye on your mail and shred any important documents before throwing them in the trash. Be wary of phone calls and emails asking for personal information, even if they seem to come from a trusted company. Being an educated and proactive consumer is the best way to protect yourself and your finances.