Research indicates that around 80 percent of all adult internet users have received an email that's been part of a carefully orchestrated phishing attack. And while this number may seem surprising, what's more alarming is that many Americans — some studies indicate up to 90 percent — don't understand how to spot the warning signs of this common scam.
Making matters worse is the fact that the crime can be financially damaging. Thieves who are able to steal the information of consumers through these targeted emails are often able to gain access to a person's financial assets. This means they can rack up big spending on bank accounts and credit card accounts, leaving the victims with reduced credit scores*, blemished credit reports and a host of cleaning up to do.
How Phishing Scams Trick Consumers
In addition to a lack of awareness, many consumers have difficulty spotting phishing emails because thieves are often attentive to detail. For example, victims have reported receiving emails with fake validation seals or bogus certificates similar to the ones they would find on websites from legitimate sources.
Similarly, due to the varied kinds of emails consumers now receive, studies have shown that consumers may believe that genuine emails are in fact the work of thieves. This may be because some emails are now being formatted for mobile or tablet browsing, making them look different than the standard emails consumers expect.
Crimes Related to Phishing
While the term phishing is used to specifically denote instances when criminals use fraudulent emails to dupe consumers, other similar terms are used to identify different forms of crime. Vishing or phowning occurs when criminals try to elicit information from consumers by using pre-recorded phone calls or interactive voice response systems.
Spear phishing is another variation of this crime. In this instance, the thieves typically try to lure consumers in by building trust over a long period of time or by addressing consumers in an authoritative and personal way.
How You Can Avoid Becoming the Victim of Phishing Scams
To avoid becoming a victim of this crime, financial experts advise consumers to never provide confidential information in an email, even if it appears to be from a legitimate source. In this case, consumers are advised to follow-up with the organization to verify the email before responding.
Consumers can also teach all of their family members to identify fake emails, observe best practices when shopping online, and screen phone calls accordingly.