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How to avoid phishing emails

How to avoid phishing emails

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Here are some qualities that identify an attack through an email:

  • They duplicate the image of a real company.
  • Copy the name of a company or an actual employee of the company.
  • Include sites that are visually similar to a real business.
  • Promote gifts.
  • Warning of the loss of an existing account.

Phishing doesn't only pertain to online banking
Most phishing attacks are against banks, but can also use any popular website to steal personal data such as eBay, Facebook, PayPal, etc.

Phishing knows all languages
Phishing knows no boundaries and can reach you in any language. In general, they’re poorly written or translated, so this may be another indicator that something is wrong. 

Have the slightest doubt, don't risk it
The best way to prevent phishing is to consistently reject any email or news that asks you to provide confidential data. Delete these emails and call your bank or credit union to clarify any doubts.

Free wireless can be dangerous
While at the local coffee shop, airport, or public gathering place DO NOT connect to the "free wireless" network if you are asked to create a temporary login to get access to the free wi-fi. Don’t Assume a Wi-Fi Hotspot is Secure. Most Wi-Fi hotspots do not encrypt the information you send over the internet and are not secure. When using a Wi-Fi hotspot, only log in or send personal information to websites that you know are fully encrypted. If you use an unsecured network to log in to an unencrypted site - or a site that uses encryption only on the sign-in page - other users on the network can see what you see and what you send.


A brand-phishing email is designed to impersonate the official websites of prominent brands – such as those within the technology, banking, shipping, and retail industries. The purpose is to trick consumers into revealing sensitive personal account information.  The email will contain malicious code that will redirect to a fake website (scam page) that requires consumers to log in to verify information. Links to these scam pages are sent through emails, text messages, or via web and mobile applications and may spoof the identity or online address to resemble the genuine site. The scam pages may then use login forms or malware to steal users’ credentials, payment details, or other personally identifiable information (PII).
  • Be suspicious of unsolicited contact via email or social media from any individual you do not know personally and/or containing messages enticing you to open a link or attached file.
  • When receiving account alerts, rather than clicking a link within an email or text, opt to navigate to the website using the secure URL to review any logs, messages, or notices.
  • Closely verify the spelling of web addresses, websites, and email addresses that look trustworthy but may be imitations of legitimate websites, including the username and/or domain names/addresses (i.e., capital “I” vs small “L”, etc.).
  • Use strong unique passwords, and do not re-use the same password across multiple accounts.
  • Do not store important documents or information in your email account (e.g., digital currency private keys, documents with your social security number, or photocopies of a driver’s license).
  • Enable 2FA and/or multi-factor authentication (MFA) options to help secure online accounts, such as a phone number, software-based authenticator programs/apps, USB security key, or a separate email account (with a unique password that does not link to other consumer accounts) in order to receive authentication codes for account logins, password resets, or updates to sensitive account information.
  • When possible, do not use your primary email address for logins on Websites. Create a unique username not associated with your primary email address.

Social Media

  • Be wary of social network invites.  If you receive a message from a friend on Facebook inviting you to join a new social network, you should suspect that the message is fraudulent and contact your friend to verify. Don't trust that a message is really from who it says it's from. Hackers can break into accounts and send messages that look like they're from your friends, but aren't.
  • Do not allow access to your contacts.  If you join a new social network and receive an offer to enter your email address and password to find out if your contacts are on the network, you should decline the offer and DO NOT allow the social network site access to your email address book. To avoid giving away email addresses of your friends, do not allow social networking services to scan your email address book. The site might use this information to send email messages to everyone in your contact list or even everyone you've ever sent an email message to with that email address. Social networking sites should explain that they're going to do this, but some do not.
  • Social media sites can have infected links. For example, you receive an Instagram picture from a friend. It's a great picture so you decide to share it by clicking the Facebook "like" button underneath the image. This can be dangerous even if the picture came from a trusted source, it's a real Facebook button and you are not downloading anything. If you can see the picture, you could have downloaded Malware. If the Facebook "like" link was fake, you also could have inadvertently downloaded Malware. Malicious software (Malware) can be disguised as a Facebook "Like" button, picture or audio clip. When you click a link or open an attachment, malware installs on your device. Unlike early PC malware, it doesn't ask your permission, and your device is figuratively in the hands of a criminal.
  • DO NOT accept a social media connection request from a stranger just because the person looks honest and knows other people you know. Be selective about who you accept as a friend on a social network. Identity thieves might create fake profiles in order to get information from you. That lack of caution can be extremely costly. Most networking sites contain personal information. When you friend someone, you give them access to that information and that can be used by fraudsters.
  • Deleting pictures or videos from your social networking sites will NOT permanently remove them from the Internet. You need to contact the support department at the social networking site to make sure they are removed. Assume that everything you put on a social networking site is permanent. Even if you can delete your account, anyone on the Internet can easily print photos or text or save images and videos to a computer.
  • You can be at risk even if you download Apps on social networking sites that look official and the App install link is within the social networking site. Be careful about installing extras on your site. Many social networking sites allow you to download third-party applications that let you do more with your personal page. Criminals sometimes use these applications to steal your personal information. To download and use third-party applications safely, take the same safety precautions that you take with any other program or file you download from the web. Modify your settings to limit the amount of information apps can access.
  • Do not respond to social media requests. If you receive an e-mail requesting you to update your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, eBay, or PayPal accounts, do NOT click on the link in the email, and DO NOT LOGIN and update your account as requested. Before writing your username and password look at the web address in the browser. The fake ones look similar to this: or If you are not sure, log into your real account just like you usually do, by typing the web address in the browser by yourself and not using the links provided.

What Not Share On Social Media Sites
  • Know what you've posted about yourself. A common way that hackers break into financial or other accounts is by clicking the "Forgot your password?" link on the account login page. To break into your account, they search for the answers to your security questions, such as your birthday, hometown, high school class, or mother's middle name. If the site allows, make up your own password questions, and don't draw them from material anyone could find with a quick search. 
  • Think twice before sharing personal information that would make you vulnerable. Social networking means opening up and sharing information online with others, but there's some information you should never share online. Protecting yourself from sharing Too Much Information (TMI) can save you from identity theft and even protect your physical safety. So let's start with the obvious - never share your social security number (including even just the last 4 digits), your birth date, home address, or home phone number (although sharing your business phone is ok ). Of course, you should protect all of your passwords, PIN numbers, bank account, and credit card information and never share the state where you were born as this information can be used to obtain your social security number and other identifying information.
  • Posts about going out of town may leave your house susceptible to robbery.
  • Pictures and videos of your house, car, and other personal possessions.
  • Personal information, including your Social Security number (not even the last four digits), birthday, the name of your high school, your pet's name, your place of birth, home address, phone numbers, or personal account information.
  • Avoid posting a full frontal picture of yourself on social media sites. A con artist can copy the image and use it to create a photo ID that can be used to steal your identity.
  • If in doubt, don't post. Oversharing can give criminals the information they need to social engineer you into falling prey to a scam.
  • Assume that everything you put on a social networking site is permanent. Even if you can delete your account, anyone on the Internet can easily print photos or text or save images and videos to a computer.
  • Limit work history details on LinkedIn: If you feel you need the added information to help in a job search, expand the details during the job hunting process and then cut back later after you have a position, leaving just enough information to entice recruiters to contact you with interesting new positions. LinkedIn also offers some capabilities to restrict information. You can close off access by others to your network of contacts, something you don't have to share if you don't want.
  • Avoid accidentally sharing personal details. Social networking sites make it easy to let details slip you wouldn't otherwise tell friends or strangers. Be aware of what information you put out there that others might use for nefarious purposes.

More tips

Use multiple passwords everywhere.  It is NOT okay to use the same passwords for social networking sites as long as you use different passwords for home banking-type sites. It is correct to use a different password for home banking type sites. However, social networking sites may not have the security of your online financial institution but using the same password on those sites is like trusting the weakest link in a chain to carry the same weight. Every site has vulnerabilities, plan for them to be exploited.

If you do receive offers of pre-approved credit, you should shred the offer before putting them in the trash. First, you should purchase a cross-cut shredder and shred all your pre-approved credit card offers. Next, you should remove your name and opt-out of receiving these offers by visiting the website:

Understand how your financial institution communicates with you.  If you receive an e-mail with your bank's name and e-mail address, explaining that, for security reasons, you had to click on a particular Internet link and log in to your account to update your settings. You should delete the email without taking any action, call or otherwise contact your bank to ensure credibility and report it to your bank as SPAM. Financial institutions DO NOT ask for personal or account information via email.

Always be skeptical of attachments.  If you receive a message to view a file or video on a social networking site from someone within your network (a trusted source), it is still NOT safe to open the attachment. Criminals are avid fans of social networking sites. They hijack user accounts to send phishing invites to an account holder’s entire contact list, post poisoned links to a variety of malicious sites, and send credible emails with malicious links - abusing the trust that friends normally share. Some creative criminals have tailored messages to appear to come from the social networking site itself, designed so that users will divulge their login credentials or download a Trojan.

Technology-based security measures such as firewalls, encryption, anti-virus, spam filters, and strong authentication will NOT prevent social engineering fraud. No matter how much security technology you implement, you can never get rid of the weakest link - the human factor. A social engineer is someone who uses deception, persuasion, and influence to get information that would otherwise be unavailable.

If you receive an email from a friend or trusted source, it is NOT always safe to click on a link or attachment within that email. The email account of your friend or trusted source could have been compromised and is being sent to you by a criminal with the intent of getting information or to have you click a link or open an attachment.  The email account of your friend or trusted source could have been compromised and is being sent to you by a criminal with the intent of getting information or to have you click a link or open an attachment.

It is NOT always safe to click a link as long as the link is through a popular search site like Yahoo, Google or Bing. Search engine poisoning makes up 40% of malware delivery on the Web. The practice is when malware and spam attackers inundate search results with links to bait pages that will take users to malicious websites that will download malware to a computer. People want to be able to trust that what they search for in Google, Bing or Yahoo is safe to click on.

Access web sites through your web browser.  Typing the address of a web site directly into your Web browser will ensure that you are going to the legitimate Web site and not a phishing site that was designed to mimic the look of the real thing. Unless the site was hijacked or your computer has a virus, typing the web address yourself is the best way to guarantee the authenticity of a web site.

Tech support scams are very popular.  If you receive an e-mail from a Microsoft support person saying that your computer is infected by a virus and suggests that you install a tool available on their Internet site to eliminate the virus from your computer. You should NOT click on the link even though the email looks official and has the legitimate email address. Email spoofing is e-mail activity in which the sender's address and other parts of the e-mail header are altered to appear as though the e-mail originated from a different source.

Be skeptical when there are big news events happening.  If you hear on the news that your insurance company has recently been breached and soon after you receive an email from your insurance company that explains the breach and provides the necessary steps for you to take. These steps include clicking on a link to update your personal information and change your username and password. You should NOT follow all instructions to keep your information protected. Now that the criminals have information about you, they may try to trick you into giving up more information through fraudulent emails. Be suspicious of urgent emails requesting information and never open attachments you aren’t expecting even if it’s from someone you know.

If you are unsure about a link in your email, do NOT copy and paste the link in your web browser. You could still end up at the malicious site and potentially load malware on your computer or network. If you are unsure whether a link you received in an email is safe, it is not safe to copy and paste the link into the URL section of your web browser.

If you are unsure about a link in your email, it is NOT safe to forward the link to have it tested by someone else. By forwarding an email, all you've done is forward a potentially dangerous and malicious email that could infect someone else's computer or network.

Criminals could strike very quickly. For example, within hours of a hurricane, you receive an email from the Red Cross asking for a donation to help the victims. This email is most likely a high-profile phishing scam that receives media attention and is at the forefront of people's minds. These scams are effective because they rely on your emotions and compassion.

Be aware of website extensions. For example, out of these six web addresses, "" is phony because any official U.S. government website will end in .gov and not .com.


Clues that an email is fake can include poor spelling, grammatical errors, offer a reward, typos, information requests, and threatening tone.

phishing infographic

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