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Phishing is hardly a new phenomenon, and has been a plague on email users since pretty much the dawn of email. Chances are, if you even have an email address you’ll be aware of this practice, and more than likely you’ll be thoroughly frustrated with it.
So what exactly is it?
Picture the scene: you sit down at your desk, coffee in hand, groggy from the early morning and a less-than-ideal night’s sleep. As your inbox loads, an email from your bank catches your eye. ‘IMPORTANT MESSAGE’, it reads.
In a fit of panic, your foggy brain believes the warning within that your account has been hacked. You follow the link and enter your login details. Oops. Turns out it wasn’t your bank after all – it was a phishing scam – and now they’ve got access to your money.
Fortunately, as internet security threats go, phishing is easy to prevent and deal with. You’ll only need to take a few small steps to ensure your inbox is mostly devoid of malicious mail, and it won’t take long. More good news is that Avast have been found to protect against phishing scams – even if you’ve already fallen victim to it.
In fact, a recent study by AV Comparatives found Avast to be the only free antivirus software that was reliable at stopping phishing threats.
So, simply downloading Avast is a great way to lay your phishing fears to rest. But here are some other easy things that will also work:
If somebody like your bank, the tax office, or PayPal is sending you an email, they’re going to send it from a legit-looking email address. It only takes a click or two to view the sender’s address, and this should be enough to tip you off.
If it’s an official looking address (just the company name and department) you may be in the clear. If it’s a string of random numbers, or just doesn’t look right, there’s a good chance it’s a scam.
For example: updates@(mybank).com looks professional, and might warrant some further attention. 1234GUE6@randomaccount.com looks a little less credible, and you should probably run the other way.
Remember – the name of the sender as it appears in the ‘from’ section of your inbox ISN’T a guarantee of authenticity. Anyone can name themselves after a bank or government institution in an email.
If you’re still unsure of the email’s legitimacy, give it a quick read. Spelling errors and poorly written sentences are generally a warning sign, as is the content itself. If there is really a problem with your bank, would they contact you via email or call you? Does it look realistic?
Any links that show up in the email should absolutely not be clicked. Even if you think it’s from a genuine source, there is simply no good reason to do this. Load up the website or app of your service separately, and log in directly from there.
If you’re totally set on clicking the link, at least hover over it first so you can view the URL. Is it the company’s official web address, or does it look bizarre and wrong?
Most phishing scams can be avoided with a dash of common sense and by taking a step back. Most trustworthy companies and institutions will never ask for sensitive information via email, and most scammers aren’t skilful enough to craft a believable email (although some are).
It can be a little worrying to hear that someone has placed a $500 order from your Amazon account or that you owe tens of thousands in tax – but don’t jump in too quickly!
When you receive a phishing email, the likely reason is that someone somewhere has sold your email address. Whenever you sign up to a service using your email, you run the risk of it being sold to a third party somewhere down the line.
Of course, this isn’t failsafe and it’s almost inevitable that your email address will at some point fall into the hands of a nefarious third party. The best you can do in this case is mark the dodgy emails as spam, and move on.
As mentioned above, Avast have recently proven to be highly reliable at defending from phishing threats. A solid antivirus program will block suspicious websites and let you know when a service is trustworthy.
Most of these programs will cost, but Avast offers a completely free version which is every bit as effective.