The 7 Best Ways to Avoid Phishing Scams

Phishing is one of the most notorious and widespread scams in the cybercrime industry. Thousands of people fall victim to this every month, with some losing huge amounts of data or funds to malicious actors. It’s frighteningly easy to find yourself the victim of a phishing scam if you don’t adequately protect yourself and know what to look out for. So how can you stay safe from phishing and guard your valuable data?

What Is Phishing?

Before we get into how to avoid phishing, we’re going to quickly run over what phishing actually is so that you have an understanding of how this scam works.

Phishing involves conning individuals via email, text, or even social media messaging. In a typical phishing message, the malicious operator will impersonate an official entity and request that a victim performs an action to solve an issue, gain something, or similar. For example, a “phisherman” scammer may pretend to be a Twitter employee contacting you about verifying your account. In this message, they’ll likely provide a link to the alleged Twitter sign-in page so that you can log into your account and resolve the problem.

However, this link won’t lead to a legitimate Twitter login page. Rather, it will lead to a malicious website designed to steal your data. When you enter your login credentials into the provided fields, the cybercriminal will be able to get a hold of them and then use them to your advantage.

But phishing attacks can also be used to target your money. In the cryptocurrency industry, scammers commonly use phishing to access people’s account information and other sensitive data (like private keys and seed phrases) in order to steal their crypto holdings. People can lose thousands of dollars in such scams, if not more, so it’s undoubtedly dangerous and should be watched out for.

How to Avoid Phishing

Now you know how phishing works. But how can you stop yourself from falling for a phishing scam?

1. Employ Anti-Spam Features

There’s a reason why email providers offer anti-spam tools to their users. Spam emails are incredibly prevalent, with many being used to commit phishing scams. So, to avoid malicious spam mail, check out your email’s anti-spam features. Most providers offer an anti-spam filter that redirects suspected spam mail to a separate folder, which is a great first step towards protecting yourself from phishing and other email-based scams.

2. Block Suspicious Senders

One of the easiest ways to get rid of a nuisance or potentially harmful sender is to block them. If you’ve determined that someone is sending you malicious or highly suspicious communications, there’s no harm in clicking that block button to stop them from continuously getting in touch with you.

The process of blocking a sender will vary depending on the hardware and software you’re using but is often fairly straightforward.

This is a super quick and easy way to determine if a link is safe to click on. Malicious links are one of the staples of phishing scams, so it’s good to have something in place to protect you from these potentially harmful websites. Enter link-checking sites.

Many reputable link-checking websites are free to use and don’t take up much of your time. Simply paste the suspicious email into the provided field, and the site will run a scan to see if this page is associated with malicious activity.

Use two or more websites to check each link just in case one of them gives you a faulty result.

4. Use Domain Age-Checking Sites

Most well-established companies have had their own websites for many years, and have therefore owned a particular domain for some time. Scam sites, on the other hand, are often only a few weeks or months old (though this isn’t always the case).

If you’re dealing with a known organization, such as Walmart, YouTube, or Amazon, but you’re a little suspicious, run the domain through a domain age-checking site to see how old it is. If you find that the domain is only a few days, weeks, or months old, you may be dealing with a malicious phishing site.

5. Open a Throwaway Account

A throwaway email address is great for those who want to use websites that they may not fully trust. While many smaller websites are legitimate, malicious sites are just as common, and some may request your email address so that it can be used to the operators’ advantage. If you’re particularly security-focused, you may also want to use a throwaway email when signing up to most non-essential sites, as large-scale hacks and data leaks have put people’s personal data at risk in the past, including their email addresses.

6. Install Antivirus Software

Installing antivirus software is a must for your desktop PC or laptop, regardless of what you intend to do on it. Malware programs are highly sophisticated so that they can fly under the radar and infect your device behind the scenes. This could be catastrophic for your device and may lead to malicious remote access, the theft of highly valuable data, or worse.

Scammers will often use phishing to spread all kinds of malware to target devices. Simply clicking on an attachment or link puts you at risk of infection, so it pays to have the correct precautions in place to protect yourself.

So, if you’re using any device that’s connected to the internet, make sure you’ve got a trusted antivirus program set up. It can be frustrating spending money on something that you’ll hardly ever interact with, but it can make all the difference if you’re targeted by a cybercriminal.

7. Know the Red Flags

When it comes to phishing, there are a lot of indicators that you can look out for to keep yourself safe. Let’s start with the email itself.

Legitimate companies will often ensure that their communications are written well. This means that it’s unlikely you’ll find lots of spelling errors, grammatical issues, or other signs of sloppiness in a message sent from an official entity. For example, it’s rare that you’ll receive an email from your healthcare insurance provider that’s littered with errors. Make sure you check the integrity of the message’s language.

And, on the topic of language, you should also be wary of highly urgent or persuasive language. Phishing operators will frequently use urgent messaging to further push their target towards complying with their requests.

For instance, you may receive an email from Amazon stating that someone has signed into your account on a new device. It’s not unusual to receive this kind of email from a legitimate company, but it’s also commonly used by phishing scammers to catch you out when you least expect it. So, in order to discern whether you’re dealing with a benign or harmful sender, check for the next red flag: unusual email addresses.

Your typical phishing scammer will choose a sender address that’s as similar as possible to the email address of the official entity they’re impersonating. In such cases, one or two characters will be different within the email address so that the malicious actor can still use it while remaining under the guise of trustworthiness. So, look out for unusually spelled words in email addresses, such as “Instagr4m” instead of “Instagram”, as this could be indicative of an impending phishing scam.

Phishing Is a Threat to All of Us

Regardless of what you’re doing online, the threat of phishing is always looming over us. It can be incredibly easy to fall for these scams, with their sophistication increasing as time passes. This is why it’s hugely beneficial to know what phishing scams look like and employ the correct measures to keep your devices safe from this dangerous scam.

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