During the holiday season, fraudsters are likely to send many phishing emails. Billions of phishing emails are sent each year because they work well for identity thieves. The average person receives a significant number of emails each day and may not take the time to examine an email. Fortunately, protecting yourself from emails is a learned skill and can be easily accomplished.
First, you should be alert and use sound judgement to check each email. Are you familiar with the sender? Is the content you would expect from that person? Do they regularly send information to you? These are good questions to ask. It is especially important to review the email if it claims to come from your bank, a certified financial planner (CFP) or certified public accountant (CPA). Many fraudsters have been successful by impersonating the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), another government agency or your credit card company. For example, you may be asked to click on a link to resolve an immediate problem with a charge on your credit card. These types of emails should immediately raise red flags and require further exploration before clicking any links or entering personal information.
Many phishing emails can generally be identified because of the abnormalities in the text. Emails from fraudsters that are overseas often have typographical errors. There may be names that are misspelled or do not fit the organization. Some emails may use a name that is similar to your bank, financial service company or your professional tax advisor, but it is not exactly correct. Phishing emails may claim to come from financial organizations you regularly work with but may lack the logo or other identifying information. If there is anything unusual about the email, it is much more likely that it is a phishing email.
A primary solution is to not click on a link, but to contact the sender directly, not as a reply to the suspicious email. For a bank or credit card issue, there is a public access phone number for the bank or a phone number listed on the reverse side of your credit or debit card. Call the official phone number for the bank or credit card company to discuss the claimed problem. You may be able to review the sender’s email address in the header to also verify you recognize it. However, by simply calling the claimed sender, you can confirm whether or not this email is legitimate. If you do know the claimed sender of the email, you might send a new email to the purported person to ask if the suspicious email address is a correct email.
You can quickly determine whether a link is legitimate to a bank, financial institution or other organization by hovering with your cursor over the link, but do not click on it. The hovering will allow you to review the address link. If it is a short link or strange email address, it is likely that the link is to a fraudster's website. Do not click on that link as doing so could load malware on your computer.
The holiday season is a prime time for fraudsters to try to collect access to your accounts and personal information. Scammers plan to steal your information and file a tax return in late January or early February so that their tax return arrives first at the IRS and the fraudulent refund will be sent to them.
Email is now a common fact of life, even for seniors. The Pew Research Organization estimates that 75% of individuals aged 75 and above now use email. Because fraudsters are becoming more clever each year, everyone needs to understand how to exercise best practices, common sense and basic exploration methods to find, identify and delete phishing emails.