When it comes to phishing scams and cyber attacks, criminals consistently revise and fine-tune their methods. It is their full-time job to find a way to gain access to sensitive data, whether they're targeting businesses or consumers.
As the volume of attempted cyber attacks continues to grow, with worsening consequences, we must remain vigilant regarding what aspects of our daily online interactions might constitute a scam and how we can protect ourselves.
Phishing is the second-leading cause of data breaches, and according to IBM, a successful phishing attack can cause a company (depending on size) over $4 million. It's essential for everyone to know what phishing emails look like and what to do when they spot one.
What is Phishing?
Phishing is an ever-evolving online scam that targets consumers and businesses through their email. Scammers specifically designed phishing to ensure that all emails sent appear from a reputable source, such as a banking institution or internet service provider.
Phishing emails will ask the recipient to verify personal information, typically via a clickable link included in the email. Even if the targeted consumer does not provide personal information, clicking any phishing links can be enough to give cybercriminals complete access to a computer system. Providing this access is disastrous for individuals and always near-catastrophic for businesses.
How to Recognize a Phishing Email
For the most part, phishing emails can be relatively easy to recognize for those who spend a lot of time communicating through email (which is most of us). However, online scammers have gone above and beyond to make their phishing emails appear legitimate, so it's good to know how to recognize a phishing email when they undoubtedly come up.
- Information phishers will pose as a legitimate company yet ask consumers to verify personal information via email, which is not typical for mortgage lenders or banks.
- Phishing emails rarely call targets by their name, beginning with "Dear Account Holder" or "Dear Valued Member."
- Phishing emails tend to have suspicious email addresses instead of domain addresses. For example, a scammer might use firstname.lastname@example.org because they don't have access to the actual PayPal domain.
- Phishing emails consistently tend to have bad grammar and various spelling mistakes.
- Some phishing emails don't include any information other than a hyperlink. Clicking this link can easily download ransomware or spam onto a computer. Any established company attempting to reach their customers regarding account information will not include a hyperlink only.
The bottom line is that a business can have the highest-tech security system ever made. Still, it only takes one untrained employee to click on a phishing email and unravel everything.
Employers need to prioritize security awareness training, immediately working it into their development and operations teams. Especially in a world where most of us now work from home, a security-first mindset is more important than ever.
Common Phishing Emails in 2021
Because hackers are consistent with the way they intricately develop new scams, knowledge concerning popular phishing scams is paramount. When we combine the characteristics of a typical phishing email and supply the information regarding standard phishing email content, we're preparing employees and consumers to avoid data theft.
The Continuation of COVID-19
As long as the COVID-19 virus poses an active health threat to humans, it will be a popular subject for online scammers. The main topic for the 2021 COVID phishing emails was vaccination-related information.
The pandemic has substantially impacted businesses and organizations of all sizes, so 2021 phishing emails related to COVID typically center on the workplace. For example, one particularly effective phishing attempt looks like a poll from HR asking about employee vacation preferences, encouraging employees to insert corporate credentials into a fake form to participate in the survey.
Cybercriminals also found success in offering fake vaccination certificates, and victims were to enter their personal information into a form to "generate a vaccination certificate." It should go without saying that there was no certificate, only stolen information.
Scammers love to utilize corporate emails to gain access to sensitive information. It's relatively easy for hackers to create an email that looks like authentic messages from other company employees, employing services or tools used within that specific organization.
For example, it's not uncommon for scammers to send a phishing email as important information from technical support or Microsoft products. Many compelling scenarios are used, including news regarding bonuses or salaries, health insurance, and social benefits information, and details regarding new bank fees.
New Movies and Television Shows
New releases on streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu tend to stir up many phishing emails. Users might receive an email from what appears to be their streaming company, enter their credentials on a fake (but extremely convincing) website, and have their username and password immediately stolen.
Phishing emails might also ask for information and account updates, successfully securing a credit card or PayPal information from consumers.
Phishing emails regarding sporting events, such as the Superbowl or the FIFA World Cup, are developed and sent well in advance. Consumers should note that the topics included in these emails usually involve invitations to bid on a contract to supply services or goods at the event.
Phishers and cybercriminals are known for creating fake ticketing sites as well. Consumers will pay an excessive amount and receive zero tickets and stolen banking information.
Banking Fraud Victims
Phishers love playing on the public's emotions, particularly regarding monies owed. In 2021, many fake websites imitating well-known banking institutions were blocked and taken down. Scammers took advantage of this by sending out emails meant to lure consumers with the promise of payouts and compensation for those affected by fake banking websites.
It's also common for attackers to send emails related to issues with mobile banking. These emails are recognizable by the sense of urgency attached to the message, which causes the user to panic and act instantly instead of taking the time to notice inconsistencies within the text.
Shipping and Mail Services
Emails from delivery services were all the rage for cybercriminals in 2021. This type of phishing email usually informs the recipient that a small delivery or mail fee remains unpaid, and consumers can take care of it by clicking the following link.
Those who fall for this trick often lose banking information and personal data to thieves. Another popular method in the shipping niche is to provide a link to a fraudulent website and disguise it as a tracking link.
Travel and vacations are picking up again, and scammers are all over travel bookings and vacation tickets. Cybercriminals are forever creating fake resources where consumers can book a fantastic holiday for an amazing deal.
It's also typical to see phishing emails that offer discounts on airfare and train tickets. In these cases, victims lose both money and personal data.
The shift to dating applications was in motion long before we saw a global pandemic change the world. However, during and in the wake of COVID, more people than ever turned to dating apps to meet someone new.
Many cybercriminals set up shop on dating applications to extract money and information from unsuspecting users. Emails asking for information to join dating websites at a discounted price are also popular.
The world has never seen so many automatic subscription services, from deodorant and music to grocery shopping and movies. While this is incredibly convenient for us, it's even better for online attackers.
Phishers will exploit streaming services by sending emails inviting consumers to try new streaming outlets at a discounted price or renew subscriptions to specific platforms so you don't lose your data or current price point.
As the topic of investing becomes more common among all internet users, scammers are taking advantage of the fact that the industry is no longer a targeted niche. Many new investors aren't too familiar with information security rules, and criminals are happily taking advantage.
In these instances, cybercriminals will recreate the informational resources of recognized companies and then offer consumers a chance to make money through investing, whether it be cryptocurrency, oil, or gas. You might be asked for your social security number or bank details to verify your identity and create an account.
The Phishing Forecast
Cybercriminals are going to exist for as long as the internet is around. The email phishing topics listed here will likely never go out of style, except for COVID (hopefully!).
Year after year, attackers update and modify their methods to obtain data that doesn't belong to them. It's crucial to stay informed regarding popular phishing methods and the securities that businesses and individuals can put in place to protect themselves.
Phishing forecasts tend to flow with the times, as malicious hackers take advantage of current trends, digital launches, and more. To avoid falling victim to phishing damages, companies should educate their employees on what to look for to prevent scammers from accessing sensitive data and installing malware infections. Above all, remaining active in the enforcement of security protocol is indispensable.
Book a demo today to learn more about phishing simulations and effective employee security awareness training.