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Practical Tips to Avoid Phishing Scams

Posted on March 28, 2024 by Maribel Martinez, consultant with The Patterson Foundation
“We’ve noticed unusual activity on your account. Click here to resolve this issue.” If you’ve seen this message before, you were probably curious or worried about what to do. The Digital Access for All team takes online safety very seriously, so read on to learn about phishing scams, how to protect yourself, and how to report a scam.

These days, most scams reach us on our phones and through our computers via email. Since a majority of our activities are conducted online, it’s important to stay savvy and remain vigilant. The widespread use of digital technologies creates infinite possibilities for scammers to hone their nefarious craft, including using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to harm. Scammers are growing more and more sophisticated, and they can easily leverage AI technologies, such as chatbots (a computer program that stimulates users to interact in conversation online), to steal information from end users and organizations.

Four Signs that It’s a Scam – Advice from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
  • Scammers pretend to be from an organization you know.
  • Scammers say there’s a problem or a prize.
  • Scammers pressure you to act immediately.
  • Scammers tell you to pay in a specific way.
Tips to Avoid a Scam
  • Block unwanted calls and text messages
  • Don’t give your personal or financial information to a request you did not expect
  • Resist the pressure to act immediately
  • Know how scammers tell you to pay
  • Stop and talk to someone you trust
If you are the victim of a scam, report it to the FTC.

Phishing Scams
In 2023, 71% of all companies experienced a successful phishing attack. Phishing occurs when scammers use emails or text messages to obtain passwords, account numbers, and social security numbers. If they get that information, they can access your bank account, email, and more. Your data can also be sold to other scammers, thus perpetuating the cycle of theft along with its many frustrations.

Phishing emails usually come from a company you recognize or do business with, sometimes telling a story to trick you into clicking on a link or opening an attachment. Some examples of suspicious email content are:
  • They say they’ve noticed suspicious activity or login attempts to your account
  • They claim there’s a problem with your account or your payment information
  • They say you need to confirm personal or financial information
  • Including an invoice you don’t recognize or for merchandise you did not purchase
  • They say you’re eligible to register for a refund
  • They tell you to click on a link to make a payment
  • They offer a coupon or something similar for free goods or services
If you receive a suspicious email, do not open it. Delete it immediately. If you open it, do not click on any links or images. Move it to your spam folder, and if your email offers you the opportunity to report spam, do so, and then delete the message permanently. Watch out if the email:
  • has a generic greeting or careless misspellings
  • says your account is on hold because of a billing problem and requires immediate action
  • invites you to click on a link to update your payment details

Protect Yourself
  • Use computer antivirus and firewall software
  • Install a Virtual Private Network (VPN) onto your phone and computers
  • Protect your cell phone by setting software to update automatically
  • Use multi-factor authentication on your accounts
  • Change your passwords often and refrain from reusing passwords
  • Back up your data
If you think you’ve already been scammed or suspect your information may have fallen into the wrong hands, visit IdentityTheft.gov for guidance and help.

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