The recent massive data leak from email services provider Epsilon means that it is likely that many consumers will be exposed to an unusually high number of email-based scams in the coming weeks and months. So this is an excellent time to point out some useful resources and tips that can help readers defend against phishing attacks and other nastygrams.
Don’t take the bait: Many people are familiar with the traditional phishing attack, which arrives in an email that appears to have been sent from your bank or ISP, warning that your account will be suspended unless you take some action immediately, usually clicking a link and “verifying” your account information, user name, password, etc. at a fake site. Commercial emails that emphasize urgency should be always considered extremely suspect, and under no circumstances should you do anything suggested in the email. Phishers count on spooking people into acting rashly because they know their scam sites have a finite lifetime; they may be shuttered at any moment (most phishing scams are hosted on hacked, legitimate Web sites). If you’re really concerned, pick up the phone (gasp!) and call the company to find out if there really is anything for you to be concerned about.
Links Lie: You’re a sucker if you take links at face value. For example, this might look like a link to Bank of America, but I assure you it is not. To get an idea of where a link goes, hover over it with your mouse and then look in the bottom left corner of the browser window. Yet, even this information often tells only part of the story, and some links can be trickier to decipher. For instance, many banks like to send links that include ridiculously long URLs which stretch far beyond the browser’s ability to show the entire thing when you hover over the link. The most important part of a link is the “root” domain. To find that, look for the first slash (/) after the “http://” part, and then work backwards through the link until you reach the second dot; the part immediately to the right is the real domain to which that link will take you. Want to learn more cool stuff about links? Check out this guy’s site and you’ll be a link ninja in no time.