7 Common Forms of Phishing Scams Explained

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The internet has afforded society with a lot of conveniences. Not only does it give with instant access to a vast amount of information, but it has also revolutionised the way people communicate with each other and do business beyond national borders. Nevertheless, the internet has also exposed society to various online threats. Phishing scams, for instance, are a type of cyber-attack where attackers use fraudulent emails, messages, or websites to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information like login credentials, financial details, or personal data. Gaining this information will enable criminal actors to exploit their victims for financial gain or other malicious purposes.
Although phishers all share one goal, the method by which they deliver their phishing scams isn’t always the same. Let’s have a look at some of the common forms of these scams so that you can understand how to prevent phishing and safeguard yourself against potential threats.

Types of Phishing Scams

Email Phishing
Email phishing is one of the most common forms of cyber-attacks. It involves fraudulent emails that are designed to trick recipients into revealing personal information and sent by cybercriminals posing as legitimate organisations or individuals. Phishers often use sophisticated techniques to make their emails appear authentic, such as spoofing email addresses or creating convincing replicas of legitimate websites. They may impersonate reputable companies, banks, or government agencies, urging recipients to click on malicious links or download attachments containing malware.

Spear Phishing
Spear phishing is a targeted form of phishing that focuses on specific individuals or organisations. Unlike traditional phishing attacks, which cast a wide net in the hope of catching unsuspecting victims, spear phishing campaigns are highly tailored and personalised to increase their effectiveness. In this scam, phishers conduct extensive research and gather information on their targets. They’ll use what they’ve learned to craft highly convincing emails that appear to come from trusted sources, increasing the likelihood of people falling for the scam.

Angler Phishing
Angler phishing targets individuals through social media platforms. Phishers exploit popular social networking sites and messaging apps to deceive users into divulging personal information or clicking on malicious links. Cybercriminals create fake profiles or hijack existing accounts to masquerade as trusted contacts or reputable organisations. They use persuasive messages to lure victims into engaging with them, often posing as friends, colleagues, or customer support representatives to establish their credibility. Once they’ve gained their targets’ trust, they’ll convince their victims to expose personal details or click on a malicious link.

Whaling targets high-profile individuals or executives within organisations. Phishers who use this scam aim to steal sensitive information or gain access to corporate networks. These sophisticated attacks usually involve intricate planning and social engineering tactics to deceive their targets successfully. Whaling begins when cybercriminals conduct extensive research on their targets’ roles and responsibilities within the organisation. Next, phishers will tailor their phishing emails to exploit these individuals' positions of authority or influence, using compelling messages to persuade them to take specific actions, such as transferring funds or disclosing confidential information.

Smishing and Vishing
Smishing and vishing are forms of phishing that target individuals through text messages (smishing) and voice calls (vishing), respectively. As with other forms of phishing, these scams typically rely on social engineering techniques to manipulate victims into revealing their personal information, such as their account credentials or financial details, over the phone or via text. In smishing attacks, phishers often pose as legitimate organisations or financial institutions and send fraudulent text messages to potential victims. Their messages typically contain urgent requests for the recipient to take immediate action, such as verifying account details or clicking on malicious links.
Scammers who employ vishing attacks, on the other hand, use voice calls to impersonate trusted entities, such as bank representatives or tech support agents. They use persuasive tactics to convince victims to disclose sensitive information or perform actions that may compromise their security, such as by providing access to their devices or by transferring funds.

Pharming is a type of cyber-attack that involves redirecting users from legitimate websites to fraudulent ones without their knowledge or consent. In this scam, cybercriminals exploit vulnerabilities in DNS servers or compromise routers to tamper with the DNS resolution process. Doing so enables them to redirect users to their fraudulent websites, which look similar to their legitimate counterparts. As a result, victims may unknowingly enter their login credentials or financial details on these fake sites, giving scammers access to their emails or bank accounts.

Search Engine Phishing
Search engine phishing is a technique used by cybercriminals to manipulate search engine results to lure users to malicious websites. Attackers create fraudulent websites designed to mimic legitimate ones, often using convincing replicas of popular websites or online services. Afterwards, they employ search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques to boost the visibility of these fake sites in search engine results, ensuring they appear prominently when users search for related keywords or phrases. When users click on these spoofed websites, they unwittingly expose themselves to phishing scams or malware.

How to Protect Yourself from Phishing Scams

Now that you’re aware of the common forms of phishing scams, you can implement different strategies that can help you keep your sensitive data secure and avoid becoming a phishing victim. Here are some things you can do:

Avoid Sharing Personal Information Never share your passwords, bank account details, or social security numbers in response to anyone, especially to unsolicited requests. Legitimate organisations will never ask you to provide sensitive information via email, text, or social media messages. Thus, be cautious of any communication that requests such information, and refrain from disclosing it unless you can verify the authenticity of the request through official channels.

Don’t Respond to Emails or Texts from Unusual Senders If you receive an email or text message from an unfamiliar or unexpected sender, exercise caution and refrain from responding or engaging with the message. Phishing scams often involve impersonating trusted entities or individuals to deceive recipients into disclosing sensitive information or clicking on malicious links.

Block the Sender If you receive suspicious emails or text messages from known phishing sources, take proactive steps to block the sender and prevent further communication. Most email and messaging platforms offer options to block or filter messages from specific senders, allowing you to protect yourself from future phishing attempts originating from the same source. Doing so reduces your likelihood of being targeted by malicious actors.

Always Update Your Operating System Keeping your operating system and software up to date is crucial for safeguarding your devices against security vulnerabilities that could be exploited by phishing scams and other cyber threats. Regularly install updates and security patches provided by your OS or software vendors to address known vulnerabilities and enhance the overall security of your devices. Set up automatic updates whenever possible to ensure timely installation of patches and reduce the risk of exposure to known security flaws.

Install Security Software Installing reputable security software, such as antivirus or antimalware programs, can help detect and prevent phishing scams and other malicious activities on your devices. Choose a comprehensive security solution that offers real-time protection against a wide range of threats, including phishing attacks, malware, and ransomware. Additionally, consider enabling firewall protection and other security features offered by your security software. This will further enhance your defence against phishing scams and other online threats. Phishing scams continue to pose a significant threat to individuals and organisations worldwide. Fortunately, by understanding the common forms of phishing scams, you can implement different proactive measures to protect yourself against them, minimising your risk of falling victim to these deceptive attacks.

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