Fast Money Blog

picture of a woman working with a computer

How to Spot Fraudulent Emails

08/12/20

Phishing is the term used to describe emails sent out by hackers. They try to trick people into giving away passwords and sensitive information. They could also contain viruses or attempt to trick you out of your hard-earned cash.

Hackers send about 156 million phishing emails every day and they’re getting trickier all the time. And in a COVID-19 environment, hackers are actively attempting to exploit public fear through a variety of scams. But there is good news. There are a few simple steps that you can take to help protect yourself from phishing attacks.

Here are five ways to spot and avoid email scams:

1) Don’t fall for the “verify your account” scam. One of the most common phishing scams is an email that tells you that your account has already been hacked. Or that some other unusual activity has been detected. The email then asks you to verify your username, password, or other personal information. More recently, scammers have been offering fraudulent products like a “COVID-19 kit”, free antibody tests, or Medicare benefits related to the virus. They’ll then request personal information, such as your Social Security or Medicare numbers, to redeem those products.

These email pages are fake and the information you enter goes straight to the hackers. Avoiding this type of attack is easy. Legitimate organizations, like banks, retailers, or healthcare providers don't ask for personal information via email. If you do receive an email asking you to log into your account, you should always go to the website directly, instead of following the link in the email.

2) Don’t get scared by emails that make threats. A new tactic among hackers has been claiming you received an overpayment of stimulus money, followed by the threat of fines, forfeiture, or arrest if you refuse to refund the money.  Unfortunately scare tactics work, especially when threatening high fines or even jail time. If the email is making big threats, it’s safe to assume it’s a scam. If you're not sure, contact the organization using the customer service number on their website. If an email is pressuring you to take action right now to avoid negative consequences, don’t believe it. Step back, calm down and look at the email again with a clear head.

3) Read emails carefully. There are many signs that can reveal an email is a scam if you know what to look for. Starting at the top, if the “To” field of the email is blank, it’s a good sign it might be a scam. If they use a generic opening like “Dear customer,” it’s a good sign they aren’t who they say they are. Other signs that may tell you it is a scam include typos, odd wording and/or grammatical mistakes. Especially if the email is coming from a friend but doesn’t “sound" like that person.

4) Avoid downloading attachments and clicking links in emails unless you are 100% sure of the sender. It‘s easy for scammers to make it look like a link goes to a trusted site when it actually sends you to a fake landing page. For instance, some fraudulent emails are designed to look as if they were sent directly from the CDC, with a clickable link to a list of coronavirus cases in your area. Use antivirus software to scan for viruses in attachments. If you aren't sure about a link in an email, you can always type the URL manually in your browser.

5) Stay clear of any emails that ask you to send money to cover expenses or deposit money from a stranger. Some phishing emails are after personal information. Some are looking for access to corporate or government networks. But some are just out for cash. If you're asked to cover expenses for someone or make a donation to a charitable organization related to COVID-19, those are classic signs of an email scam. Don’t fall for it.

Email scams aren’t going away anytime soon, especially as hackers continue to exploit COVID-19 for fraudulent purposes. But following a few best practices can help you to rest easy. If you want even more security for your identity, consider a Diamond Secure Account. It provides all the benefits of a Pinnacle Bank Checking Account along with identity monitoring and resolution services, so you can always keep safety at the front of mind. Check out all the benefits of a Pinnacle Bank  Diamond Secure Account .

Interactive Video Player