Phishing is the leading cybersecurity threat worldwide. Every year, cybercriminals send out over 3.4 billion emails in an attempt to trick users into providing their personal or financial information. 

These statistics indicate a serious need for awareness and action to curb extortion, data theft, and other consequences of phishing attacks. Therefore, in this post, we’ll provide a brief overview of what phishing is, how it’s done, and how to spot it.

What Is Phishing?

Phishing is a common cyber-attack in which malicious actors attempt to obtain sensitive recipient information through electronic communication, mostly emails, text messaging, and instant messaging. The information they try to steal generally includes:

  • Credit card information;
  • User account credentials (social media, banking, work, etc.;
  • Social security number;
  • Location, etc.

These criminals mostly pretend to be people or businesses the victims know, including friends, coworkers, banks, eCommerce stores, and more.

How Cyber Criminals Carry Out Phishing Attacks

Phishing involves using social engineering techniques to convince or entice victims to share sensitive information. Phishers browse the internet looking for public information on victims using channels like:

  • Facebook;
  • Instagram;
  • LinkedIn;
  • X;
  • Reddit, etc.

They proactively gather personal details, including email address and location. However, some learn more about the victim, including where they work, their interests and hobbies, and their daily routine.

According to a Tessian report, 84% of social media users post personal information on their accounts, practically serving everything phishers need on a silver platter with minimal effort. Once they gather the necessary details, they employ the following tactics to prompt you to reveal personal and financial information:

  • The most common technique involves sending emails or texts from banks or other financial organizations, prompting recipients to take urgent action. For instance, many phishers send emails informing victims their credit card  or account has been blocked or needs to be renewed through a malicious link;
  • More advanced phishers create malicious websites to lure visitors to create accounts and enter their personal and financial information. From fake eCommerce stores to utility software and online streaming, these criminals opt for various methods to get what they need;
  • Some phishers don’t pretend to be businesses. Instead, they impersonate friends, family members, or coworkers and ask you to share personal information, purchase items like gift vouchers, or send OTP codes.

How to Spot Phishing – 4 Smart Tips

Here are three ways to spot and avoid phishing when checking emails, scrolling through social media, or reading texts.

Pay Attention to the Action the Phisher Asks to Perform

Whether it’s a text or email, phishers often threaten recipients with the negative consequences of failing to take urgent action. However, most organizations, especially banks, never send messages like these. Hence, you can easily consider these to be phishing. 

Look Out for Bad Grammar and Spelling Mistakes

Although AI writing tools like ChatGPT have made life easier for phishers, many stick to conventional malicious content creation methods. As a result, you can easily find bad grammar, spelling mistakes, or sentences that don’t make sense.

Businesses thoroughly check emails for errors before sending them. However, phishers aren’t vigilant and rely on your poor digital hygiene to take the bait.

Be Vary of Bad Links, Suspicious Domain Names, and Inconsistent Email Addresses

One of the easiest ways to spot phishing is by paying attention to the small details. For instance, most phishers use shady links with suspicious domain names when pretending to be banks or other businesses. Moreover, they use different email addresses to send multiple emails to recipients.

Look Out for Suspicious Attachments

Many phishers target professionals who actively share files, documents, and links to collaboration tools like Dropbox or SharePoint. If this applies to you, always treat these emails suspiciously and watch for extensions like .zip or .exe. These are commonly used as trojan horses to hide malware.

The Bottom Line

Phishing remains the most common cybersecurity threat simply due to poor digital hygiene practices and cybersecurity measures. Therefore, to avoid becoming a victim, you must be hyper-vigilant when viewing and sharing information online through email, social media, and other channels.

The tips above can help you spot and avoid phishing attacks. However, you should prepare for the worst by adopting smart solutions like password managers and anti-malware software to strengthen your digital defense. You can also try a router-based VPN to test the benefits of this tool for your cyber safety.