What are the Telltale Signs of a Phishing Attack?

Phishing e-mails come in many shapes, sizes and forms, in that there’s a colorful variety of ways that the thief-sender could structure the message.

This is why the person who would never give up financial information, usernames and passwords to a company sending them an e-mail requesting this information may very well fall for a different kind of phishing e-mail—perhaps one that’s made to appear it’s from someone they know.

And the message says something like, “LOL, check out this video!” and below is a link—and one click and it will download a virus. The virus will then snatch the victim’s sensitive data, without the victim ever knowing. Once the hacker has this data, he’ll be able to open up a credit card account in the victim’s name and go on a wild spending spree.

So it’s either click and download a virus, or click to be taken to a website that looks like the legitimate website of the company you patronize, such as eBay, PayPal, Microsoft, Bank of America or Amazon.

So you type your login information for PayPal because the e-mail message told you you had to do this for some kind of update; otherwise your account might be hacked into. You just gave a hacker the key to your valuables. Kiss them goodbye.

Some phishing e-mails are more dramatic—so ridiculous, in fact, that it’s hard to believe that anyone would allow themselves to get sucked into their vortex:

  • You have been selected by some military sergeant in another country to help out with some underground venture of valuable products—stolen products that will be up for resale in an underground market. You’ll get a rich reward for assisting. You fall for this because you have the “I’m so special” syndrome: This is when the Internet user doesn’t question the fact that they, out of a gazillion people with e-mail accounts, have been chosen as that special someone to assist with some enormous financial transaction.
  • It never dawns on these people the idea that what if THEY needed someone to help THEM with a massive financial transaction? Would they just randomly select a total stranger to help out? Well, they don’t think this way, sadly.
  • Another ruse is that some recently murdered Moroccan princess has left behind a couple million dollars, and the family is seeking an American bank account to safely transfer the inheritance, after which they’ll move to America and become citizens. Won’t you open one up for them? You’ll get a big fat reward for this—they’ll wire it to you. In order to do that they’ll need your bank account information.
  • The message is written in crappy English and the sender somehow found out that you’ve done some editing work in the past. The sender speaks of her four children whom she loves so much, then says she needs the attached document about gardening to be proofread. Of course, we all know that her telling you about her kids is very relevant to this job—which needs to be proofread immediately. And perfect timing: Your freelance work has been drying up lately. Just look over the attached document first, says the sender, who didn’t even address you by name, and then give them the fee that you think is fair for your expert services. Hah! Opening the attachment will download a virus.
  • Never click on attachments in e-mails unless you know the sender well and they normally send you links.
  • Never click on attachments unless you’re expecting a specific one from someone you know.
  • Ignore e-mails with subject lines that 1) Announce you won a prize, 2) Announce you’ve won money, 3) Announce you owe money, 3) Tout some new miracle weight loss pill, super cheap Viagra or some other pill or drug that will cure a disease, 4) Threaten of account suspension, 5) Threaten you’re about to get hacked, 6) Have some mushy subject line like “Dearly Beloved.”
  • Consider it a scam when the sender requests your financial and personal information.
  • The message claims to be from a leading company but has typos.