How to deal with phishing attacks

If you feel that more scammers and spammers are flooding your various inboxes, they probably are.

Fake text messages and emails carrying phishing attempts by virtual scammers have been on the rise since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. And one of the most common methods that scammers have used lately is fake messages allegedly from an Amazon representative, who may claim to be checking suspicious activity on your account or even a delayed package.

Phishing attacks or “phishing” – aka SMS phishing – are usually aimed at tricking you into believing that you are communicating with a legitimate representative of the e-commerce giant. If you’re not careful, you may overload valuable personal information from your credit card information to log login credentials to your online accounts, or click on malware-ridden links infecting your devices with viruses.

The Federal Trade Commission reported that US consumers collectively lost nearly $5.8 billion from fraud in 2021, up 70% from the previous year. About a third of that came from fraudulent scams.

So, what can you do to make sure you’re not caught up in one of the increasingly common scams by spammers?

How to check for scams

Do not click on any links or share any personal information, unless you are absolutely certain that you are actually speaking with an actual representative from Amazon, or any other legitimate company or organization.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) notes that there are many telltale signs often associated with scammers, who can “use a variety of ever-changing stories to try to limit you.” These include:

  • Promising you won a free prize
  • Offer a form of low interest credit
  • Alert you to suspected suspicious account activity
  • We say there is a problem with your payment information
  • Fake invoice sent to you

Amazon itself offers an online guide to help its customers identify suspicious messages that pretend to be official Amazon communications. The company says that red flags include order confirmations for items you didn’t order, messages with grammatical errors, or prompts to install software.

The company says that if you are suspicious of a message requesting updated payment information, you should go to the Your Orders page in your Amazon account online. “If you are not prompted to update your payment method on that screen, the message is not from Amazon,” the company says.

Many scammers rely on “spoofing,” a practice that tricks your phone’s caller ID into thinking you’re receiving a text or call from someone you trust. In some cases, they mimic your private number, making it appear as if you are calling or texting yourself.

So, to be extra careful, the FCC recommends that you “don’t share your personal or financial information via email, text, or over the phone.”

How to block and report spammers

If you are in any doubt about the legitimacy of a particular text or email, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advises you to contact the company or organization’s “verifiable customer service line”. Visit the company’s website to find a valid contact number or email address, rather than replying to the message you received.

The simplest way to stop receiving suspicious messages is to block the phone numbers or email addresses that message you. You can also manage your phone’s filters to get rid of calls or text messages from unknown numbers.

Unfortunately, some scammers use different numbers or addresses for each message they send, which makes you play the default Whack-a-Mole game, constantly blocking suspicious numbers and emails while scammers navigate through new numbers.

At this point, consider reporting spam and phishing attempts to your wireless carrier or email service, along with government agencies—including the FTC’s Online Fraud Complaint Form and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

If the suspected fraudster claims to represent a specific company such as Amazon or a government entity, you can also try to report the attempt to the actual organization. Amazon suggests visiting the company’s “Report Something Suspicious” page in its customer service section, where you can report any texts, emails, or phone calls you’ve received that you suspect didn’t actually come from Amazon.

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