Phishing and Smishing By Cheryll Boswell

Scam artists have gotten pretty sophisticated and savvy these days. They continue to find ways to scare and intimidate you into giving them your personal information so they can steal from you. All too often, they imitate or mirror a company you’re familiar with to sound legitimate. Phone scams, social security scams, unemployment scams and fake text messages are some of the most common scams thieves use to steal your personal information.

Phishing and Smishing are some of the techniques scammers and cyber thieves use to steal your money and identification. Phishing often occurs through emails or phone calls. Scammers will send some kind of message to trick you into clicking on a link they’ve provided. Once you click on the link they sent, a malicious software virus or ransomware gets released. The probability is pretty high you will no longer be able to use your computer, or they’ve gained access to your personal data. Or both. If you’re at work and click on the link they sent, you’ve just opened the door and made it possible for a cyber thief to steal all of your company’s information. A hefty ransom must be paid to get the companies data returned. JBS meat company and Colonial Pipeline are two companies that paid millions of dollars this year alone in ransom to cyber thieves.

Phone calls usually come from people acting like they know you or are trying to sell you something. If your phone number is registered on the Do Not Call list, the fake people calling about your car warranty are breaking the law.

Similar to email phishing scams, Smishing usually comes in the form of text messages trying to lure you into giving someone your personal information. There is always a sense of urgency and a threat to get this matter resolved. Per some of the scam messages, if you don’t respond immediately, you’re going to jail.

A recent text message from an out-of-town phone number told me they were having trouble processing my unemployment payment. After reading this text a second time, intuitively, my thoughts were, I’m being Smished. My mind went to an article I just read in the Illinois Policy Institute report on unemployment fraud. The article went on to say how Illinois has lost over $14.8 million dollars to fraud during the covid-19 pandemic. Unemployment fraud could cost the state more than $1 billion dollars in revenue. I was not going to contribute to this statistic.

The Federal Trade Commission issued a few red flags for consumers to be aware of and to avoid being scammed.

  • Don’t click on any links that have been sent to you, especially if you don’t know the sender.
  • Most messages don’t have your name on them. They usually have “Dear, Dearest, Sir, or Madam” hit the delete and or block button.
  • Be aware of any emails or texts that sound overly urgent and ask you to respond right away. If it’s your bank or a business, call the number you have on a monthly statement from them, not the one instructed in the email or text message.
  • Never give or validate your social security number or account number over the phone or in a text or email.
  • Don’t respond to emails or texts that invite you to click links to update payment or account information. 
  • Delete emails or texts containing links asking you to provide information without signing in through the secure site you typically use to access your account, or if links lead to a site that looks familiar, but the web address is incorrect or has subtle differences.
  • If emails come from addresses that don’t match the names of the companies supposedly sending you the emails, don’t respond. Keep in mind, phishing emails may use official logos and headers.
  • When you get a robocall, don’t press any numbers to be removed from their call list or to speak to an operator. This validates they have a working number. Block them.

Scammers don’t care how old you are or how much money you have or don’t have. Their goal is to take. Always protect your personal information. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.