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Thursday 19 July 2018 | 4 min read

How to spot an email scam and protect yourself online

Stock photo of a person typing numbers on a laptop, while holding a credit card in their other hand

Email scams have been around for nearly as long as the internet, and unfortunately they are not going away any time soon. In fact, the trends show that they going to become more sophisticated as hackers and scammers better understand how to manipulate people.

This is because people do fall for them. According to Scamwatch, so far in 2018 there have been 60,965 scams in Australia, with 11.5% of victims reporting financial loss, and the total amount lost just shy of $51 million AUD.

We all know that scam emails exist, so how do they trick us? Understanding the tactics scammers use to get victims to click on links or attachments is the best defence that you’ll have.

1) Does it make you want to urgently click on things?

The absolute number one tactic for a scammer is to get you to click on something before you think about it. It could be an email claiming a family member is in trouble, or that a critical payment due has failed. You may be inclined to immediately click on those, and by the time you’ve noticed that the email is dodgy or has a fake business address in the signature, it’s too late. Your computer is now hosting a virus.

Always take a second to take a closer look before clicking on a link or downloading any attachment to your computer.

2) The email won’t be personal

Many scammers work on a business of quantity – if they send out 100,000 emails, one or two people might click on them. For the kind of money they can get out of a scam, that’s a good result.

Some scam emails will be personally addressed to you (and those are the most dangerous, because the scammer is directly targeting you in that instance), but in most cases the email won’t be personal. It will be addressed “Dear Customer” or “Dear Friend,” and that should be an immediate red flag.

3) The email will have links

Increasingly, scammers rely on links, knowing that people are wary of attachments. Links are easier to hide, too, since you can make an innocuous piece of text the link (for example, a business name), and people could be more inclined to trust it.

There’s an easy way to test whether a link is going to direct you where you think it should. Right click on a link, select “copy shortcut”, open a word document and paste the text in there. If the link isn’t what you would expect of a legitimate business (either the website isn’t familiar, or the link is filled with garbled numbers, letters, and characters), then don’t click on it without confirming its legitimacy directly with the business.

4) The email doesn’t come from a professional business

There’s one thing that scammers don’t do, and for the cautious email user it’s the best way to recognise them immediately – proper businesses have professional writers that carefully construct their emails. In other words, the emails from a legitimate source tend to look professional, are free of spelling errors, and have a “tone” that is consistent with everything else you know about the brand.

So keep an eye out for language that seems odd or unprofessional. If you’re not comfortable with what the email is telling you, and the way it is presented, call the business and confirm it came from them.

Other ways to protect yourself

In addition to keeping an eye out for suspicious emails, there are a couple of other things that you should do to protect yourself. Make sure you keep a range of different passwords for your online accounts – relying on the one password for everything is asking for trouble if a hacker works it out. Additionally, make the passwords strong by ensuring they’re not related to things that are important to you such as a partner’s name, and use a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols.

Additionally, keep the security over your social media accounts tight. Not only can scammers try and reach you through those platforms, but they can use the information you make public there to make it sound as if they know you.

Finally, don’t forget the common sense thing. Companies will not ask you for your credit card details through email. Additionally, a common scam on the rise involves a scammer calling and pretending to be from a telecommunications or IT company, and then asking you to let them have control of your computer to fix a problem or offer a free upgrade. If you get control of your computer back, there will almost certainly be a virus installed on it.

The number one thing to remember is, if something sounds suspicious, then be suspicious.

And if you ever receive a communication from Aussie Broadband that you consider suspect, always reach out to our customer support team – they’ll be able to advise whether the communication is legitimate or a scam.

Tags:Security and PrivacyEmailInternet

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