How to spot a phishing scam

Woman sitting on a bench outdoors. She is drinking coffee, has a smart watch on her wrist and is using her smartphone.

News & Insights

MoneyPlus Features Team

17th October 2017 at 7:00am

Getting an email from your bank, or one of your favourite brands, is nothing out of the ordinary. Being able to speak to them online saves you from having to make a lengthy visit to sort out any issues, and gives you back the thing that most of us are usually chasing; time.

With more and more of our conversations happening through a screen, there’s a risk that you don’t always know who you’re speaking with.

This is where phishing comes in.  Fraudsters see this as an opportunity to try and get hold of your personal details, by pretending to be some of your well-loved brands and companies.

Don’t worry, we can help you filter out the spam, and spot the fraudsters.

What is phishing?

Phishing is when a fraudster sends a fake email, while pretending to be a well-known company, asking you to hand over personal or sensitive information.

The email may also ask you to click on a link which results in you downloading a virus to your computer, or takes you to a fake website designed to look like the real thing.

Often the email is sent to thousands of people at a time, however a recent case saw about 1 million Google users receive a phishing email from online hackers.

Once the fraudster has got hold of your personal details, they can use these to try and access your money online, or in some cases they may trick you into handing money over to them yourself.

There’s Vishing and SMishing too

Email isn’t the only way fraudsters can try and fish for your information, there’s vishing and SMishing too.

Vishing is when a fraudster tries to get information from you over the phone, usually pretending to be your bank, insurance company or even the Police.  Find out more about cold-calling pension scams here.

SMishing is when a text message is sent asking you to reply with sensitive information.

It can be tricky to know what to look out for, but we can help you there.

How to spot something phishy

It’s not always easy to know when you’ve received a phishing email, text or phone call so we recommend you keep an eye out for some of the main signs:

  • “Dear Customer…”

If they don’t actually address you, but use a general greeting such as “customer”, your email address, or even “friend”.

  • Who’s it from?

Take a look at the sender’s email address or phone number.  Is it different to that usually associated with the brand they are claiming to be?

  • Bad spelling

Professional emails and texts that really have come from your bank are unlikely to have spelling mistakes.  Poor spelling, punctuation or grammar could be a sign that the sender is not who they say they are.

  • Deadlines and strange requests

Does the sender or caller request immediate information, or threaten that action may be taken if you don’t do what they say?  Usually a trusted company won’t ask this of you.

  • Links

It’s important to take time to check links in an email carefully.  It’s easy to copy the company’s name directly into your web browser to check whether or not it is genuine before clicking.

What to do if it happens to you

Get Safe Online has lots of useful tips for using your email safely to make sure you don’t fall for any phishing scams.  If you do, however, or you notice money missing from your bank account that you don’t remember spending, it’s important to know what to do next.

If you think you’ve been targeted by a phishing scam, report it straight away to Action Fraud.  You won’t be the only person this has happened to, but by making sure you report it, you’re helping the right people catch the criminal.

It’s also important to change your passwords and contact your bank or provider to let them know to look out for any suspicious behaviour.  Make sure that your computer is up to date with its security checks and try not to use public Wi-Fi networks.   Take a look at our blog how to stay one step ahead of scams for more top tips.

By knowing what to look out for, you’ll be able to make sure you stay away from phishing scams, meaning that you can enjoy spending your time and money on the things that matter to you.