Updated: Jun 21, 2021
Recently, someone very close to me fell victim to an email scam that gave the hacker full remote access to their computer (super scary, I know). These email scams can look incredibly realistic, so it's important to be able to distinguish between what's legit and what's not. These emails attempt to fool you into visiting a website to either download malware or reveal sensitive personal information. The perpetrators of phishing scams craft the website to look like the real thing. Here's how to protect yourself from these scams:
1) Stay informed on the latest phishing techniques! Being informed on the latest scams can help you avoid a potentially scary situation. Be wary of emails asking for your password, emails with misspelled words or grammatical errors (if an email comes from a legitimate site like Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Instagram, etc. it more than likely will NOT have any spelling or grammatical errors), emails that contain a suspicious link for you to click, emails that promise you money if you click on a link, emails that say, "We've been trying to reach you about ____," the list goes on and on. Basically, be cautious when clicking on any link in ANY email. Most phishing emails start with, "Dear Customer," so that can be very indicative of an email you DON'T want to open.
2) Install an anti-phishing toolbar (from a trusted site). Most internet browsers these days will allow you to install such a toolbar -- these toolbars are completely free and will alert you if you attempt to visit a site that is malicious. This is just an extra layer of protection against phishing scams! You can download anti-phishing software here: https://www.avira.com/en/avira-browser-safety
3) Keep your browser up-to-date. Security patches are released for browsers on a fairly regular basis. These patches are released to account for any security loopholes that hackers and phishers are using to exploit innocent victims. Never ignore messages about updating your browser -- when an update is available, download it and install it immediately.
4) Never give out personal information. In general, you should never share personal or financial information over the internet. If something seems phishy, it probably is. ALWAYS go to the main page of the company in question and call their customer service line to verify whether or not they actually contacted you. Never send an email with sensitive information to anyone. If you do have to submit info online, make sure the website is secure by checking to see if it has "https" in front of the URL.
For more in-depth information on what to look out for regarding email phishing scams, visit the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team website here.