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Beware of Phishing Scams

what is phishing?

Phishing is a type of deception designed to steal your identity.  In a phishing scam, a malicious person tries to get information like credit card numbers, passwords, account information, or other personal information from you by convincing you to give it to them under false pretenses.  Phishing schemes usually come via spam, email, or pop-up windows.

how does phishing work?

A phishing scam begins with a malicious user who sends out millions of fraudulent email messages that appear to come from popular websites or from sites that you trust, like your bank or credit card company.  The email messages and websites they often send look official enough that they deceive many people into believing that they are legitimate.  Believing that these emails are legitimate, unsuspecting people too often respond to the email's requests for their credit card numbers, passwords, account information, or other personal information.

A scam artist might put a link in a fake email that appears to go to the legitimate website, but actually takes you to a scam site or even a pop-up window that looks exactly like the official site.  These copies are often called spoofed websites.  Once you are at one of these spoofed sites or pop-up windows, you might unwittingly enter even more personal information that will be transmitted directly to the person who created the spoofed site.  That person can then use this information to purchase goods, apply for a new credit card, or steal your identity.

6 ways to protect yourself from phishing

  1. Never respond to requests for personal information via email - Legitimate organizations will never ask for passwords, credit card numbers, or other personal information in an email.  If you do receive an email requesting this kind of information, DO NOT RESPOND, DO NOT REPLY, DO NOT CLICK ON LINKS OR IMAGES, and DO NOT OPEN ANY ATTACHMENTS with the message.  If you think the email is legitimate, contact the company by phone or through their website to confirm.  See (#2) for the best ways to get a website if you think you've been targeted by a phishing scam.

    You can get more information about phishing and see some example messages at Microsoft Safety & Security Center.  You can also see actual phishing examples sent to PennWest Clarion.

  2. Visit websites by typing the URL into your address bar - If you suspect that an email from your credit card company, bank, online payment service, or other websites you do business with is not legitimate, do not follow the links to the website from an email message.  Those links may take you to a spoofed site that might send all the information you enter to the scam artist who created the site.

    Classic examples are phishing emails that claim to come from eBay or PayPal.  Pay attention to the URL of a website.  Malicious websites may look identical to a legitimate site, but the URL may use a variation in spelling or a different domain (e.g., .com vs. .net).  So beware of IMITATION WEBSITES!

  3. Check to make sure the website is using encryption - If you can't trust a website by the address bar, how do you know it's likely to be secure?  There are a few different ways.  First, before you enter any personal information, check to see if the website uses encryption to transmit your personal information.  In Internet Explorer you can do this by checking the yellow lock icon on the status bar.  If the lock is closed, then the site uses encryption.  This symbol signifies that the website uses encryption to help protect any sensitive personal information, credit card number, payment details that you enter.

    Double-click the lock icon to display the security certificate for the site.  The name following Issued to: should match the site you are on.  If the name differs, you may be on a spoofed site.  If you are not sure whether a certificate is legitimate, don't enter any personal information.  Play it safe and leave the website.

  4. Routinely review your credit card and bank statements - Review credit card and bank statements as soon as you receive them to check for unauthorized charges.

  5. Report suspected abuses of your personal information to the proper authorities - If you feel you have been a victim of a phishing scam, you should immediately report the scam to the company that's being spoofed.  If you are unsure how to contact the company, visit the company's website to get the correct contact information.  The company may have a special email address to report such abuse.  Remember not to follow any links in the phishing email you received.  You should type the known website address for the company directly into the address bar in your internet browser.

  6. Use anti-virus software and maintain security settings on your computer - See the Safe Computing - Protect Your PC for additional details.

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Last Updated 8/19/22