No one wants to walk right into a hacker’s trap. But “phishers” count on unsuspecting online users to do just that.

“Phishing” is a tactic criminals use to acquire your personal information via fake emails, text messages, and bogus websites. Although you should take it seriously, phishing is little more than a nuisance if you know what to look for. Heed the tips below to avoid the hook and keep your personal information safe.

Be wary of emails and texts asking for personal information

Phishing emails usually ask you to provide personal information of some kind.

Legitimate emails and text messages from reputable companies won’t ask you for personal information like account numbers, passwords, and social security numbers.

Signs you’ve received a phishing email or text message include:

  • The message requests personal information, like a password or credit card number.
  • The sender’s email address or phone number doesn’t match the company it claims to be from.
  • The url of the company’s website doesn’t match the one in the link included in the message.
  • The message differs from other messages you’ve received from the company.

Think twice before clicking on links, attachments, and pop-ups

Moreover, don’t click at all on links, attachments, and pop-ups from unknown sources. If you receive a suspicious email, don’t respond or click on any links within the message. The link may lead to a website infected with a virus that ends up compromising your computer. Or, just as bad, the website could become a portal the hacker can use to access your computer.

The same warning applies to attachments. Don’t open or download attachments from unknown sources. The attachments may contain viruses, spyware, or other malicious software.

Another common form of phishing includes pop-up warnings about security deficiencies on your computer. The pop-up warning typically advises you to download software to fix these so-called deficiencies.

Ironically, the links do the exact opposite of what they claim by tricking you into downloading spyware or some other unwanted program. As a general rule, if the warning doesn’t come from the security software you’ve installed on your own computer—don’t click.

Secure your wireless network, computer, and mobile devices

You can take steps to secure your home wireless network, computers, and mobile devices against phishing and other online security risks. Enable firewalls and install anti-virus and anti-spyware programs on your computers. Be sure to keep those programs up to date. After all, software developers don’t issue those updates just to annoy you with reminders. Such updates usually fix some security vulnerabilities, so make sure the software on each of your mobile devices is up-to-date, too.

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Last Edited: December 4, 2017