Staying Safe Online: Avoiding Phishing Scams

February 1, 2017

staying-safe-onlineUsing email and surfing the internet opens up so many possibilities: Connection to friends and family, convenience of shopping and banking online, and a world of information at your fingertips. But our online lives may also bring exposure to fraudsters. So how to stay safe? Arm yourself with information about how fraudsters operate.

What is Phishing?

Sending fraudulent emails is known as “phishing” (phony + fishing). It is a favorite way for fraudsters to find victims as it is easy to copy business logos to make an email that looks like it came from Wells Fargo, FedEx, Facebook, or even a friend. All email accounts now have filters that attempt to put fraudulent emails in special “junk” or “spam” folders. But be careful — fraudulent emails sometimes slip into our inboxes.

Follow these 7 tips to help you avoid phishing scams:

  1. Think before you click. Perhaps the most important tip! Assume that clickable links in email are fraudulent until you can assure yourself otherwise. The following tips will help you determine what is real and what is fake.
  2. Understand what the fraudsters are looking for. Perhaps the most common way that fraudsters make money is by gathering and selling our personal data. There is a “black market” on the internet where fraudsters buy and sell credit card numbers. A credit card number alone has value, but the credit card number becomes even more valuable if it can be sold with some personal data. Even your zip code makes the credit more valuable. Why? It helps authenticate the credit card user at certain points of sale. (Think about how you are asked to enter your zip code when purchasing gas!)
  3. Fraudsters use the names and real logos of companies. Emails may look like they were sent by companies you do business with. The scams change, but we have seen fraudsters send convincing emails pretending to be:
    • Google, Yahoo, or AOL saying that you have missing or compromised mail.
    • Fed Ex, Amazon, or UPS saying a package was delivered.
    • Wells Fargo, PNC, or another bank asking you to update account info.
  4. Emails may look like they came from a friend. Fraudsters can make an email look like it came from a friend’s account — even if that account wasn’t actually hacked. Examples:
    • The email says that your friend or family member is out of the country and needs you to send them money due to an emergency.
    • The email may have a no message — just a link to a website.
    • The email may have a link and very short (and tempting!) message such as: “Hey, you have to see this” or “Check out these photos!” If in doubt, call to confirm that your friend or family member really sent it.
  5. Be familiar with common email scams. Remember, fraudsters are often after your personal data or money. So be on the look out for emails that:
    • Ask you to verify or update account information.
    • Offer you a ‘free’ gift card or deep discount on products.
    • Tempt you to click on links to “family photos.”
  6. Before clicking, ask yourself these questions. Are you expecting an email from the sender?
    • Does the email have enough detail to convince you that it is legit? e.g., “here is a link to those photos of Mary and Sally from our dinner in DC last week” is pretty specific. But an email that says “Hey, here are the pictures” could be from anyone.
    • If the email appears to be from a friend, call the friend to confirm that they sent
  7. If possible, don’t click, go to web browser instead. Even if you think a link in an email is legitimate, don’t click. If possible go to the website directly via your browser. For example, if you get an email regarding a bank account, don’t click the link in the email. Go to your browser and enter the name of your bank directly.

Following these tips will help you avoid falling victim to the fraudsters. And finally, if you come across an email you believe to be fraudulent just delete it. And don’t worry too much about the emails in your Junk or Spam folder — these generally automatically delete after 30 days.

Learn more with Take Charge/Age Well Academy!

For more information on these topics, I invite you to attend Iona’s “Staying Safe Online” workshop on Tuesday, February 7 at 2:00 PM.  Join us for tips on navigating the Internet, and ask your questions. Learn more and RSVP today by registering online here. I look forward to seeing you there.


By Pam Holland

This post was guest authored by Pam Holland. Pam is the founder of TechMoxie, a Washington DC company that provides tech education, coaching and support to “grown ups.” Pam can be reached at