Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Phishing: Email Scams

Phishing Emails | Sextortion | Spear Phishing
How Phishing Works | Fake Links
Anti-Phishing Tools | More About Phishing

A while cellphone is held in front of a background with red neon signage. The phone has a series of emails displayed.

Identity theft information is contained on three pages:

  1. Identity Theft: obtaining information by deceit
  2. Phone Fraud: scamming by phone
  3. Phishing: email scams

This page will help teach you how to prevent yourself from becoming a victim.

The information was written with computers in mind, but these warnings also apply to smart phones and tablets.

“Geek Squad” Phishing Scam

This emailed “receipt” from “Geek Squad” is a phishing attempt:

Typical “Geek Squad” scam email

Of course you'd realize that you purchased no such service and the scammer hopes that the cost of $248 would spur you to respond without thinking it through.

Instead of responding, start by reviewing the email and question its contents. A few clues point to the fact that this is a phishing attempt:

An Unlikely Email Address

A legitimate Geek Squad email would come from a company email address.

You'd never send out a business email with your personal email address.

A Fake Phone Number

Hovering your mouse over the displayed 800-326-8719 shows that you'd actually be calling 888-210-0083:

The displayed phone number not real

You'd be better off going to the real Geek Squad website (part of Best Buy) and clicking on Cancelling or editing an order.

An Unlikely Payment Method

Notice that the payment was via “auto debit.”

Few “Language” Clues

While the language in this phishing attempt is quite good (unlike earlier attempts), there are subtle clues:

These clues would show you that this invoice is a fake and cause you to end your investigation without clicking on links or otherwise responding to an obvious phishing attempt.

I marked the mail as spam. I neither clicked on any links nor investigated any further (too risky).

The Scam Process

An opinion piece in the Times Colonist provided more details:

To enable this, he was to log in to a website (which was obviously a fake), and download a program that would enable him to claim his refund. JP did so.


Here a clever piece of swindling occurred. When he logged on to the site, he was told to type in the amount of the refund. So he typed in $240.


But the website altered the amount he'd typed in to $24,000. When he drew the customer representative's attention to the error, he was led though a correction process.
Times Colonist

The scammer then tries to get you to refund the $23,760 “overpayment” by logging into your bank account. When that fails you're asked to send a wire transfer to a bank in Asia.

Does that sound like you're dealing with a legitimate business, never mind Geek Squad?

“Microsoft” Phishing Scam

The following is a screen capture of another email, supposedly from Microsoft:

Phishing email.

Typically, the destination page would mimic Microsoft's site. When you entered your login information, your Microsoft account would be immediately compromised.

Phishing: Obtaining Information by Deceit

Phishing is a form of spam intended to obtain financial and personal information by deceit.

Phishing is sending emails or other electronic communications to fraudulently or unlawfully induce recipients to reveal personal or sensitive information, such as passwords, dates of birth, Social Security Numbers, passport numbers, credit card information, financial information, or other sensitive information, or to gain access to accounts or records, exfiltration of documents or other sensitive information, payment and/or financial benefit.
— Microsoft

Phone, social media and email scams have a lot in common.

There are a few basic psychological tricks that phishing attacks and phone scams attempt to use against us….
BBC Future
The magic sauce, as it were, is in the way phishing attacks are branded.


Attackers are doing their homework by researching targets on social media, message boards, media reports, and other online sources to find hyperspecific ways to manipulate human nature and emotions.


They use people's fears, their sense of urgency or curiosity, or their need for reward, validation, or an entertaining distraction.
— Menlo Security
[M]any scams are highly orchestrated endeavors, made up of lots of psychological ploys that might just hit an otherwise intelligent individual at a personal low point in time.
— Check Point blog

Report Identity Theft

If you have been a victim of identity theft (or suspect you have) report identity theft then notify your local police department.

While local police may be unable to do much with an international-based crime, the report will help to establish credibility when dealing with your bank and other institutions when you try to repair the damage.

Don't let embarrassment keep you from talking to the authorities. If you were the only victim, identity theft would not be a growing problem.

The sooner you report the potential identity theft, the sooner you can begin to resolve the issue.

Email Scams

A staggering 91% of cybercrime starts with email.

Fraudulent emails are called phishing emails. When the email is personalized to target an individual using specific accurate information, it is called spear phishing.

“Callback phishing” uses email with a fake invoice or other urgent item to induce the recipient to call a phone number.

Callback phishing typically involves an email, a phone call and a fake subscription/invoice notice. In recent months, hackers have impersonated businesses in order to dupe victims into making phone calls that lead to the download of malware.

Stop and Think Before Acting

The phishing email is designed to get you to act impulsively, before you have a chance to think.

Remember to Stop. Think. Connect. — Pause before you click or connect.

How to Respond

How to protect against scam emails (from Acronis):
  • Do not panic. Do not get scared by the crooks. They do not know you, nor do they have access to your computer. It is a classic scare technique. Try to ignore it, even if it sounds disturbing.
  • Do not pay. Once you've paid money, you will not get it back. Instead, you might be attacked more frequently since you've shown the attacker that you are a profitable target.
  • Use strong passwords. Use unique strong passwords for different services. If possible, enable multi-factor authentication in order to increase security. A password manager can help you remember all these different passwords.
  • Awareness-training programs. As an organization, you should implement an awareness-training program for your employees. Also, make sure that your employees know how to report such scam emails to your IT department.
  • Update all relevant systems. Ensure that all your systems are up-to-date and that you are using a comprehensive security solution that can automatically protect you from the newest cyberattacks.

Ignorance is Your Downfall

Your ignorance is your downfall. Learn the signs that you're being scammed:

Don't Get Hooked: How to recognize and avoid phishing attacks
Don't Get Hooked: How to recognize and avoid phishing attacks


One disturbing phishing attack is sextortion: obtaining intimate images under false pretenses, then using them to blackmail you into providing money (ransom) or additional images.

Simply put, sextortion is blackmail. It's when someone threatens to send a sexual image or video of you to other people if you don't pay them or provide more sexual content.


Remember, the best way to fight sextortion is to prevent it. So don't send nudes
Don't Get

The extortionist then seeks out your contacts and other vulnerabilities via your social media accounts.

Knowing who is closest to you is then used by the blackmailer to threaten to expose your activities to your friends, family and co-workers.

Teens a Target

Too often children are targeted by online predators pretending to be someone of similar age interested in friendship and more.

Once the predator gains their trust, they try to get the teen to send compromising photos which they then threaten to post online or reveal to their friends and family.

Threats may be used to further gain additional photos or even to meet the “friend” in person.

[Stephen Sauer, the director of] said oftentimes children are specifically targeted. Organized crime rings based overseas pose as young women on social media platforms that teenagers use such as Snapchat and Instagram.


They convince them to send sexually explicit images or videos and then immediately threaten to share the content if the children don't provide them with money or sometimes more images.
Victoria Times Colonist

This sort of blackmail can result in suicide when the youth feels there no one to turn to. One example is Amanda Todd. She committed suicide after several years of harrassment from someone already convicted of the same crime by Dutch courts.

The man convicted of harassing and extorting British Columbia teenager Amanda Todd has been returned to the Netherlands, where the prosecution office says a judge will decide if he serves any of his 13-year Canadian sentence.


Canada's Justice Department says Aydin Coban was taken back to his home country on Nov. 24, where he will continue serving a nearly 11-year sentence imposed by a Dutch court in 2017 for similar crimes involving more than 30 youth.


[I]t's possible he may not serve his Canadian sentence because he was already serving the maximum Dutch term for similar crimes committed around the same time he was harassing [Amanda Todd].
Victoria Times Colonist

This is why it is so important for parents to monitor their children's online activities, especially on social media.

Blackmailed Online?

Unfortunately, sextortion has been on the rise lately. But there are ways to prevent and fight it.

If you are being blackmailed online, paying the scammer will not resolve the issue. There is a safe way out. Call 1-866-658-9022 or go to

Recent changes in British Columbia law are designed to protect those whose intimate photos are shared without their consent.

Facebook Blackmail Popular

While there are many avenues to obtain phishing information and use it against someone, Facebook is particularly attractive to blackmailers:

With…many people actively using Facebook, it makes it easy for Facebook sextortion scammers to find information about you, including: a list of your family members, friends, where you live, where you work, etc — all without having to spend time looking it up elsewhere, or having to pay a third-party website for the information. This is what makes Facebook blackmail so popular.
Dennis Faas
Social media like Facebook seem to raise particular risks, with phishers enjoying a much higher hit rate — perhaps because they can glean more information to personalise their messages, and because we are so keen to build our friendship group. Quite simply, the more you use a particular social network, the more likely you are to fall for a scam on that app.
BBC Future

Dennis Faas is an experienced systems administrator and IT technical analyst specializing in cyper crimes (sextortion, blackmail, tech support scams).

Read Dennis' article fully before contacting him. It explains what he does and explains the sorts of activities that result in blackmail.

See Blackmailed Online? for a solution if you're a victim.

“Your Computer Hacked”

Claims that your computer has been hacked is a common approach for online blackmail attempts. Any messages using the threat of exposing your porn habits should be immediately deleted. These are a phishing email on a fishing expedition. Don't fall for it.

Sample Sextortion Email

Here's some of the text from a sextortion email quoting the email address as the account:

I have bad news for you. I hacked into your operating system and obtained full access to your account. After that, I made a full backup of your disk (I have all your address book, view site history, all files, phone numbers and addresses of all your contacts).


I took a screenshot of the intimate website where you are satisfied (Do you understand what I mean?). After that, I made a video of your pleasure (using the camera of your device). It turned out beautiful! I firmly believe that you would not want to show these photos to your parents, friends or colleagues. I think 300 € is a very small sum for my silence.


P.S. I guarantee that I will not disturb you after the payment because you are not my only victim. It's a code of honor for hackers.

Criminals have no code of honour. The other statements are just as false.

The goal was to rattle the recipient into sending 300 €. Paying any ransom, just like paying blackmail, is never recommended.

Passwords as “Evidence”

Often the email will include a password as the proof of their access. These passwords were probably obtained from one of many security breaches.

[I]t is often the case that the scammers have no such evidence of the user's activity; they are just bluffing to get the user to pay the ransom. A password can be bought for a few dollars on the dark web, and scammers are often clever in how they present the little information they have.
Check Point blog

Be sure to change all your passwords after learning about any breach that involves any online service you use.

Unfortunately, in the modern age, data breaches are common and massive sets of passwords make their way to the criminal corners of the Internet. Scammers likely obtained such a list for the express purpose of including a kernel of truth in an otherwise boilerplate mass email.

Check to see if your email or password has been involved in a security breach:

Tighten Your Security

If you have decent up-to-date computer security software, have changed the default passwords on your router and use good password hygiene it is highly unlikely that you've been hacked.

If the language is quite generic and without details, I suggest you ignore the threats. However, you should do a security audit to ensure your system is secure rather than paying a scam artist.

Learn more about how to deal with phishing attempts.

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Spear Phishing

“Spear” phishing is harder to detect. It uses personal information found online such as details you shared on social media or was culled from a data breach then sold on the Dark Web.

The email may appear to come from someone you can trust, but it is a scammer looking to steal from you.

The spear phisher thrives on familiarity. He knows your name, your email address, and at least a little about you. The salutation on the email message is likely to be personalized: "Hi Bob" instead of "Dear Sir." The email may make reference to a "mutual friend." Or to a recent online purchase you've made. Because the email seems to come from someone you know, you may be less vigilant and give them the information they ask for. And when it's a company you know asking for urgent action, you may be tempted to act before thinking.

These messages often have short deadlines or are made to appear urgent in their nature. The more you analyze the message, the more likely you're able to see through the deception.

Looks Can Be Deceiving

Phishing often involves using a well-known brand name to convince you that you're seeing information from a legitimate source (a transfer of trust). You're not.

In a brand phishing attack, criminals try to imitate the official website of a well-known brand by using a similar domain name or URL and web-page design to the genuine site. The link to the fake website can be sent to targeted individuals by email or text message, a user can be redirected during web browsing, or it may be triggered from a fraudulent mobile application. The fake website often contains a form intended to steal users' credentials, payment details or other personal information.
Check Point blog

The Check Point blog also noted the most imitated sites in the second quarter of 2021:

  • Microsoft (related to 45% of all brand phishing attempts globally)
  • DHL (26%)
  • Amazon (11%)
  • Bestbuy (4%)
  • Google (3%)
  • LinkedIn (3%)
  • Dropbox (1%)
  • Chase (1%)
  • Apple (1%)
  • Paypal (0.5%)

Some Resources

These are some excellent resources on dealing with phishing attempts:

I use AntispamSniper, an excellent third-party antispam tool, with The Bat!. They have some excellent suggestions on identifying and avoiding phishing attacks.

Identity Theft is a Long-Term Problem

If you are the victim of identity theft, you can expect to fight to regain your credit rating for years — over and over again.

Victims report that it takes months or years to regain their credit rating, only to find that a new report forces them to start all over again.

Keep Paper Files

While electronic data can quickly get you into trouble, financial institutions want physical (on paper) evidence that you're not responsible.

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How Phishing Works

Going on a Phishing Expedition

Becoming a victim is easier than you might think. Let's have a look at the process from the perpetrator's point of view.

Remember, YOU are the intended victim of this trap.

Step One: Create a Fake Website

The first step is to set up a look-alike site that closely resembles a site that your victims are already using or could be using. The company's logo and other trademarked images are used to convey authenticity. (See the section on using transfer of trust.)

Proprietary Images Can be Hijacked

If a site invites you to use your email and password to log into Yahoo!, Gmail, Windows Live, AOL or other email account, DON'T!

The “Google Docs” image (shown beside this text) was captured from a fake website several years ago.

A similar layout was embedded into an email (one of the reasons you DON'T want to allow your email program to automatically download images).

The technologies employed in phishing attempts has improved a great deal since then.

Don't Follow Links in Emails

Don't follow any link in either emails or websites to log into accounts on sites like Yahoo!, Gmail, Windows Live, AOL, etc. The email may employ fake links to misdirect you into providing your login details on a bogus site.

Instead, use the address included in a legitimate source like a paper invoice or account statement.

Any phishing message could exploit a bank (most have been targeted), Google Docs, e-Bay, PayPal or any site where you conduct business using a credit card or is protected with a user name (usually your email address) plus a password. Only your password is unique in this combination.

Don't Use Facebook or Google Logins for Third-party Sites

You should NEVER use single sign-on options (e.g., signing in with your Facebook or Google account for third-party sites). While convenient, it creates a single point of failure for ALL your accounts in the case of a security breach.

It can also provide third-party websites with a great deal of information about you, including your interactions on that Facebook or Google login account.

Use a Password Manager

Instead, use a password program like LastPass to generate unique passwords and to manage all your account logins.

Fake Links Cull Account Login Details

When you click on these links and enter the requested login information, you giving thieves access to your real account(s).

They probably will change the password to lock you out of your own account to assume ownership.

Your email account is a key recovery mechanism for your other accounts. The scammer would soon control your social media and other accounts linked to it.

All they have to do is click on the “forgot password” link on the various sites, then check your email account for the recovery information or links. Any warnings from those sites would be sent to an email account controlled by the hackers, not you.

Step Two: Send Out an Email

Next, send an email message to thousands of potential victims (like you) indicating that there is a problem with their account.

Most such messages indicate that you must act quickly or your account will be closed. The message requests personal information that no legitimate request would make including your user name and password (bank PIN if your bank account is the target).

They don't want you taking time to think or to contact the actual company where the account is located, do they?

Legitimate businesses will never ask for personal or account information via email or phone calls placed by that business.

An Example

This message was sent to customers a number of years ago:

We would like to inform you that we are currently carrying out scheduled maintenance and upgrade of our account service and as a result of this your accounts have to be upgraded.


We are sorry for any inconvenience caused.


To maintain your account you must reply to this email immediately and enter the information below:


User name:




Failure to do this within 72 hours will immediately render your account deactivated from our database.

The headers show that the message did NOT come from Islandnet:

From sil[email protected] Tue, 17Aug 2010 4:33:41 -0700 (PDT)
From: "" <[email protected]>
Return-path: <[email protected]>
Envelope-to: [email protected] would never send out such a message and would never use a yahoo-based email address like [email protected].

How to Read Message Headers

Scammers Getting Smarter

You can't count on identifying spam by the email sender's address. Scammers often know how to forge headers to make it appear to come from a legitimate company.

Recently I've noticed that spam with the same message seems to come from a different email address every time (probably the same scammer using stolen addresses).

According to Symantec's 2015 Website Security Threat Report Part I, it costs as little as $0.50 to $10 per 1,000 stolen email addresses on the black market — a testimony as to the poor quality passwords many folks use and how easy it is to obtain them.

The Anatomy of an Email Scam

The Anatomy of an Email Scam

Don't get hooked.

See full-size infographic (posted on the Check Point blog) to learn how to recognize an email scam.

HTML Email Hides Details

One of the dangers of "enhanced" or HTML email is that stuff can be hidden. See How to unmask fake links.

Firefox security features help you avoid problems with invalid or insecure sites.

Other browsers may have these features, but Firefox is the only major independent browser and Mozilla is committed to personal privacy.

Step Three: Collect the Information

The victim (that's you) clicks on the link and finds themselves on what they believe to be the correct site.

Remember, the perpetrator has created the site to look like the original, so they enter their user name (email address) and password.

Of course, this information is not going where you think it is — you're sending it directly to thieves.

Step Four: Assume Your Identity

Taking your electronic identity (which you've just provided to them on the phishing site), the thieves go to the actual site (such as your bank's website) then log into your account.

The information obtained in this manner is then used to either obtain funds from your account or to set up credit in your name.

The example above is designed to lure you into providing account information and/or to visit a bogus website where you'll enter that information.

An “URGENT Help Request”

A message can also be designed to get you to send money via Western Union or some other method.

This sort of email will seem to come from a “friend” or “family member” that needs money to help them pay their hotel bill or get home because they've suffered some sort of accident or are the victim of a crime.

The sender hopes you reply with your financial details so they can collect the funds themselves.

Stop and Examine the Email

Their goal is to get you to respond quickly before you can think too hard about the claims in the message. Beware of these signals:

The details in the email are usually general in nature. Some information may be accurate but the scammer doesn't know you as well as the real person does.

How Did They Manage to Contact You?

Ask yourself how the sender was able to email you when they have no cash, credit cards or cell phone?

Tighten Passwords

The real owner of the email address needs to let people know they're okay and to change their password to something more secure (and probably change their security habits).

Fake Emails Getting Better

Recent phishing email scams are harder to detect. Scammers are improving their techniques as well as their grammar. They employ spear phishing techniques to make the message more believable.

[P]hishing messages only seem to be getting savvier and more authentic-looking, fooling even seasoned experts. Gone are the days when obvious misspellings and grammatical errors provide a dead giveaway that shenanigans are at play.
Trustwave Blog

Online AI resources like ChatGPT and Microsoft's recently developed VALL-E are going to make it even harder to detect such scams.

It has the ability for someone with not very much skill set or maybe even not a great command of the English language to create a full, almost flawless script to use in an attack against somebody in a phone scam or an email phishing scam or what have you.
Robert Falzon

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One of the methods commonly used to scam people are fake or obfuscated links in email messages.

Fake links drive unsuspecting traffic to websites that:

Decent security software and detection provided by web browsers like Firefox can help prevent such attacks, but it is best not to click on these links in the first place.

Where Does That Link Go?

Would you click on links like the following?

Of course not.

Those looking to steal your identity aren't going to unmask themselves. They tell you the link points to something that takes advantage of your curiosity or greed.

You can't trust the linked text to tell you where the links actually go because it is ignored by your browser.

Links Have Two Components

Hyperlinks on a website (and in an email) have at least two components:

  1. the linked text (what you see highlighted in the link); and
  2. the hyperlink (the actual address where you are being sent).

Only the hyperlink itself (the hidden part) determines where the link sends you.

Just as placing a Mercedes licence holder onto a Ford doesn't turn it into a Mercedes, a misleading description doesn't change the link's destination.

Take a look at the following link (a new window opens):

Hint: it doesn't take you to the Bank of America's site, but to another (but safe) site.

Using the Status Bar

If you hover over the link and look in the status bar at the bottom of the program (some browsers show the hyperlink address in a small box above or below the link itself) you can tell the destination without clicking the link (and potentially getting yourself into trouble).

Just because the linked text says it is pointing towards a particular address doesn't mean that is the real destination.

Learning More of the Mechanics

If you are interested in the mechanics of this process, have a look at Cut 'N Paste HTML Editing. It gives some simple HTML lessons and demonstrates how HTML links work.

Short Links (URLs)

Shortened links (web addresses or URLs) are common in Twitter messages because 140 characters doesn't allow for long complex links.

These are also useful in emails where very long and complex links can be broken when the line is wrapped by your email program.

Services like TinyURL and Bitly hide the destination address.

Unmasking Shortened URLs

You can unmask the destination of these links before visiting the site. Paste the address into your browser's address bar with the changes noted below, then hit enter:

You're taken to TinyURL or Bitly with information showing about the true (full) destination for the shortened link. In these examples, all shortened links point back to this page.

Other Link Shorteners

If you're unable to determine the destination, I recommend using Redirect Tracker to check any short or affiliate URL (,, etc.) to see where it goes.

Phishing Emails

Shortened URLs are seldom needed in an email except where the length of a complex address wraps in the email window, potentially causing the link to break.

Phishing email emails commonly use shortened links to obfuscate the destination.

Emails containing the promise of a financial reward (“click bait” messages) are dangerous. I strongly recommend deleting such messages.

In most cases, clicking on these will simply bring you grief.

An Example

I received a suspicious email (supposedly from “Costco”) with a shortened link. Redirect Tracker revealed that the unmasked destination address was being redirected twice from the obfuscated address:

The destination of an link reveals it is being redirected twice

This is not a good sign, especially since “zharerewards” is an obvious misspelling of sharerewards.

Other Issues

Shortened URLs have security and other issues.

How Can a Fake Site Exist?

First of all, people that set these fake sites up wish to remain anonymous. They are breaking the law and don't want you (or the police) to be able to find them after they steal your identity.

Short-Term Links

The provided links are only up for a short time before they are removed by the owners of the site affected or by the legal authorities.

Forged links often point to a site in an educational institution where passwords and access are easy to come by.

By their very nature, universities house a lot of smart and curious people. Smart as they are, too many don't view the issue of security as their problem.

Because of lax attitudes, many could suffer significant financial setbacks.

Delete Attached Forms

More recent phishing attempts have provided an attachment to their messages which, when opened, replace the fake site with a form which accomplishes the same nefarious purpose — to get your information using deception.

Don't be fooled. An unexpected attached form (or PDF or Zip file) is likely an attempt at identity theft. Even .DOCX and other Microsoft Office documents can be dangerous.

Configuring Your Software to Protect You

Whatever choices you make with your software, you'll want to take advantage of some advanced (and often hidden) features:

Advanced features are often hidden to provide for a cleaner, simpler look. Microsoft's hiding of known file extensions is one example.

Remember, software vendors don't have to pay to clean up problems caused by the shortcomings in their products or within optional downloads installed at the same time as their own product.

If you need help determining how to configure your software and security protection, contact someone knowledgeable. Be careful when selecting your “expert” helper (especially if they call you). Remember, you're putting your trust in this person.

I provide these services, but only in Greater Victoria (located on the west coast of Canada).

Get Help From Your ISP

Use whatever tools your ISP makes available to identify potential spam, phishing and other problematic email messages. Check your ISP's help or support website or call their help line.

I strongly recommend hosting with

This site hosted by
Check out

They specialize in website hosting and can provide personal support when you need it. Their friendly, knowledgeable staff can deal with most email programs and services.

Unlike some major ISPs, you're dealing with a real person that is knowledgable, not someone overseas with a script in front of them.

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Using Transfer of Trust

A successful phishing scheme, like any con, depends upon gaining your trust.

They'll use your trust of your financial institution, a major vendor (e.g., Microsoft or Apple) or other authority (CRA, CRTC, FBI, phone company, etc.).

If you believe they are who they say they pretend to be, then you'll be more likely to follow their instructions without questioning anything.

Your “trust” in the caller, web page or link is only because it appears to be from someone you know and trust.

The Internet Can Be Exploited

The original Internet was used only by scientists exchanging data. There was no need for high security. Trust was implied.

But this has changed. The Web is now used for e-commerce, personal transactions, banking, socializing and more.

Browsers and modern enhanced email messages can be exploited, particularly if you don't understand HTML markup. Without that knowledge you can't protect yourself.

Preventing Successful Phishing

There are a number of things that you can use to avoid being the victim of this type of attack:

Always use trusted sources to obtain the telephone number or website address to contact any site requiring personal information or a password.

Google is not necessarily that trusted source. Many “sponsored” links are capturing key searchable words (called key words in SEO), not providing expertise.

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Anti-Phishing Tools

These tools and information sites will help you to learn more about phishing and provide you with tools to verify suspect websites and files.

I urge caution when using these tools. Be sure you understand the terminology as well as the risks.

Suspicious Websites

Check to see if a site has been flagged for phishing:

Check the site's information and/or disclaimer pages so you understand the capabilities and shortcomings of the service. The following is from urlQuery's“ About” page but can be applied to most such services:

Currently no service or security solution provides 100% detection of malicious content. The data provided is to help give a second opinion and should not be taken as fact. As with other sandbox technologies it can be detected which can skew or make the results inaccurate. Other issues might include browser incompatibilities or settings/configurations within the browser.

Cryptocurrency Scams

cryptocurrencies are electronically generated pseudo currencies such as BitCoin. They have become very popular because they allow for anonymous transactions and because of the extraordinary growth in their value.

As a result there are now multiple cryptocurrencies and they have become a common element in scams, both in their reward offerings and in the method of extracting payment from unsuspecting victims.

Kaspersky says that fake exchanges, fake mining hardware and wallet phishing are the most popular crypto scams of the year, many of which it said have a higher-than-usual level of detail.


People investing or interested in this area are often more tech-savvy than the average user. Therefore, the cybercrooks make their techniques more complex in order to get data and money from these people

Don't fall for emailed offers of cryptrocurrencies. Think before acting. If it's seems too good to be true, it's probably a scam.

Only use apps from trusted sources.

Cryptocurrency apps that have to be downloaded from outside the official iOS, Android or other app store are generally dangerous, especially if the link is provided in an email from an unknown source.

Suspicious Files

Be cautious when checking out suspicious files. In most cases you're safer simply deleting the email along with the unopened suspect file unless you were expecting it from a trusted source.

Malicious Microsoft Office attachments are more common than malicious batch scripts and PowerShell scripts.
Tech Republic

Security software is a must. Ensure that your security software is current. Scan new downloads before installing or running it.

Delete Attached Forms

If your security program detects a problem with an attachment, you'd best delete it rather than having the program treat it even if it is an essential file sent from a trusted computer.

More recent phishing attempts have provided an attachment to their messages which, when opened, replace the fake site with a form which accomplishes the same nefarious purpose — to get your information using deception. Don't be fooled. An unexpected attached form (or PDF or Zip file) is likely an attempt at identity theft. Even .DOCX and other Microsoft Office documents can be dangerous.

You're best to discard it rather than risk infecting your own computer by opening the attachment. Instead, print out a copy of the file on the original computer while disconnected from the Internet. The original computer needs to have a full security scan with a current and updated software.

Beware of Hidden File Types

Windows hides “known” file extensions by default. While they are known to Windows, many users don't understand the risks they can pose such as what sorts of files can infect your computer.

Several file types (including .EXE, .SCR, .COM and .BAT) are not safe to open, especially when received as an email attachment.

You should change your settings to unhide known file types.

Microsoft Office files, such as those with MS Word's .DOC and .DOCX extensions, can also carry dangerous scripts.

Checking Unknown Files

If you're unsure if a file is safe, you're better off deleting it than checking it out yourself. If you need the file, use one of these resources to check it out before opening it.

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More About Phishing

The following sites deal with phishing.

Recommended Reading

419, fiction by Will Ferguson, looks at the issue of phishing from both the victim and perpetrator points of view. Strongly recommended.

“419” by Will Ferguson
419 takes readers behind the scene of the world's most insidious internet scam. When Laura's father gets caught up in one such swindle and pays with his life, she is forced to leave the comfort of North America to make a journey deep into the dangerous back streets and alleyways of the Lagos underworld to confront her father's killer. What she finds there will change her life forever… — GoodReads

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Updated: October 7, 2023