Top 4 Ways to Outsmart a Phishing Scam

March 21, 2022 at 6:37 pm by Amanda Canale

Do you have what it takes to outsmart a phishing scam? Let’s find out!

First, a bit about phishing: for those that may not be familiar with phishing, phishing is a phrase used to describe a cyberattack method via email. An email is sent to an individual with the intention of hacking into the recipients’ email, computer, or network. 

Typically, the phishing email will ask the recipient to perform some form of task, whether it is to open an attachment, click on a link, send gift card codes, or send along sensitive information. These links and attachments will be malware-infected and allow the hackers to gain access to your computer, network, and more, and can have detrimental consequences. 

It is important to note that phishing is not a new cyberattack tactic.  Phishing has been one of the most common attack methods and has only become increasingly more complex the further we get into the Digital Age. That said, upgrading your cybersecurity software and educating your staff how to spot and report phishing emails are just two ways to better protect you and your organization’s data. And speaking of educating your staff, read on to learn the top four ways you and your team can spot a phishing email. 

SOX data destruction

Red Flag #1: An Urgent Request for Login Information, Sensitive Information, or Money

Today, it is increasingly easy to get in touch with one another; there’s the telephone, text message, FaceTime, Microsoft Teams chat, Zoom call, calendar invite, and more. It’s safe to say that if your supervisor (or any member of upper management) needs to speak with you on an urgent matter, they’re going to find a way to contact you directly. If an email allegedly coming from your boss or CEO is threatening negative consequences, or even termination, if you do not complete their task, it’s probably a phish. This is a type of scare tactic used to rush the recipient into getting their request completed as soon as possible.

In addition (and it should be common sense), if your boss needs you to send her login information or sensitive information, take a moment and ask yourself, “if this person were really your boss, wouldn’t she have her own access to that information and logins, especially if she is in upper management?” We’re not saying you should ignore every request for information from upper management, but if the request seems a little fishy (pun intended), take a moment to give the sender a quick call or follow up with them in a separate email (using the email address you know belongs to them) to confirm their request.

The same should go for any request for money or gift card activation codes. A colleague, regardless of title and status, should not be requesting monetary items from you via work emails. This is usually a clear sign of a phish and like we suggested above, take a moment to follow up with that person in real time to confirm their request. 

Red Flag #2: Misspelled Name and/or Email Address (When Impersonating Someone You Know)

Now, these attempts don’t come from just any John Doe; hackers do their research to make sure the “sender” looks like it is quite literally coming from your supervisor, company president, client, or…pretty much anyone you know based on social platforms and public company directories.

That being said, it’s now time to break out your magnifying glass and bifocals because we’re moving on to proofreading the urgent request with a fine-tooth comb. Some phishers are lazy so it may be fairly easy to spot a phish simply by doing an in-depth evaluation at the spelling of the sender’s email address (and even the spelling of anyone’s names that are mentioned). 

Since it is not possible for two email accounts to exist under the same domain, hackers have to get creative with the spelling of email addresses when impersonating someone. A quick scan may miss the typos and misspellings so it’s best to take the extra few seconds to make sure the sender is using the correct domain and spelling of their name. Also be on the lookout for the number 1 replacing an  L or an I and other such crafty substitutions.


Red Flag #3: Bad Grammar and Overall Spelling Mistakes

Most of the time, phishing scams do not come from a particular person but rather a bot or a spell-check tool that doesn’t always translate well. Be on the lookout for major spelling and/or grammar mistakes, and this red flag will be an easy one to spot.

Red Flag #4: Illegitimate Links

Whatever you do, do not click the blue link! 

One tricky way phishers hook their victims is by using illegitimate links. One can avoid activating any malware-infested links by simply hovering their cursor over the link for a second or two to see a preview of the URL. If the preview is anything different than what the link says it’s supposed to be, then report it to your IT manager for a more in-depth evaluation.

To summarize, sometimes all it takes is a few extra seconds to carefully read over requests (and maybe a “better to be safe than sorry” forward to your IT department) to spot a phish. As a final note, we want to stress that it takes more than a simple spellcheck to keep you and your organization’s information secure. Upgrade your security software, implement two-step verification logins, train your employees, and collaborate with your IT department to find other security methods you can take.