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Protect yourself against fraud this tax season

Recognize the signs of a phishing attack via email, SMS message or phone call

February 25, 2020 — 

Cybercriminals use types of social engineering—manipulating people into doing what they want—as the most common way to steal information and money. Social engineering is at the heart of all types of phishing attacks—those conducted via email, SMS, and phone calls. Today’s technology makes these sorts of attacks easy and very low risk for the attacker.

Make sure you’re on the lookout for these variants on the traditional, mass email phishing attack:

  • Spear phishing: This kind of attack involves often very well-crafted messages that come from what looks like a trusted VIP source, often in a hurry, targeting those who can conduct financial transactions on behalf of your organization (sometimes called “whaling”).
  • SMiShing: Literally, phishing attacks via SMS, these scams attempt to trick users into supplying content or clicking on links in SMS messages on their mobile devices. Flaws in how caller ID and phone number verification work make this an increasingly popular attack that is hard to stop.
  • Vishing: Voice phishing, these are calls from attackers claiming to be government agencies such as Canada Revenue Agency, software vendors like Microsoft, or services offering to help with benefits or credit card rates. Attackers will often appear to be calling from a local number close to yours. As with SMiShing, flaws in how caller ID and phone number verification work make this a dangerous attack vector.

Social engineering attacks are getting harder and harder to recognize. But no matter the medium, follow these techniques to help prevent getting tricked:

  • Don’t react to scare tactics: All of these attacks depend on scaring you, such as with a lawsuit or criminal charges, that your computer is full of viruses, or that you might miss out on a chance at a great interest rate. Don’t fall for it!
  • Verify contacts independently: Financial transactions should always follow a defined set of procedures, which includes a way to verify legitimacy outside email or an inbound phone call. Legitimate companies and service providers will give you a real business address and a way for you to contact them back, which you can independently verify on a company website, support line, etc. Don’t trust people who contact you out of the blue claiming to represent your company.
  • Know the signs: Does the message/phone call start with a vague information, a generic company name like “card services,” an urgent request or threat and/or an offer that seems impossibly good? Hang up or click that delete button!

*Adapted from Educause article: April 2019: Whaling, SMiShing, and Vishing…Oh My!


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