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Protect Yourself from Phishing Scams: How to Spot and Avoid Fraudsters Impersonating Financial Institutions


Article published by Michael Wassmann, HBKS Chief Compliance Officer and Scott Velmer, Vertilocity Manager

Phishing scams are a prevalent and persistent threat in today’s digital world. According to the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG), 2022 was a record year for phishing with more than 4.7 million attacks logged. There has been an annual increase of over 150% in phishing attacks since 2019. These scams involve fraudsters attempting to deceive individuals into providing sensitive information such as passwords, credit card details, or social security numbers. By impersonating reputable organizations, particularly financial institutions, scammers exploit trust to gain access to personal and financial data. It is crucial to be aware of the tactics used by these fraudsters and learn how to protect yourself from falling victim to their schemes.

Understanding How Phishing Scams Work
Phishing scams typically begin with an email that appears to be from a legitimate source, such as a bank or credit card company. The email often contains a sense of urgency, advising the recipient to take immediate action to avoid consequences like account suspension or loss of funds. The email may include a link that directs the recipient to a fake website designed to look identical to the real one. Once on the fake website, victims are prompted to enter their login credentials or other personal information which is then captured by the scammer.

Common Signs of a Phishing Email
Detecting a phishing email can be challenging, but there are some common signs that can help you identify potential scams. Spelling and grammatical errors are often present in phishing emails as scammers may not have the same attention to detail as legitimate organizations. Additionally, the email address of the sender may seem suspicious or unfamiliar. Be cautious if the email asks for personal information or requests that you click on a link without providing a valid reason. Finally, phishing emails often create a sense of urgency or fear to pressure recipients into taking immediate action.

How to Spot Email Phishing Attempts
To protect yourself from email phishing attempts, it is essential to be vigilant and develop a healthy skepticism towards unsolicited emails. One effective way to spot phishing attempts is to hover over any links in the email without clicking on them. This action will reveal the actual URL that the link leads to. If the URL does not match the official website of the financial institution, it is likely a phishing attempt. Another technique is to carefully examine the email address of the sender. Legitimate organizations will typically use official domain names, so be cautious if the email is from a personal or suspicious domain. Furthermore, pay attention to the tone of the email. If it tries to create a sense of urgency or fear, it may be a phishing attempt.

Techniques Used by Fraudsters to Impersonate Financial Institutions
Fraudsters employ various techniques to impersonate financial institutions convincingly. One common method is email spoofing, where scammers manipulate the email header to make it appear as if the email is coming from a legitimate source. They may also use logos, branding, and language similar to the targeted financial institution to create a false sense of familiarity. Another technique is creating fake websites that closely resemble the original institution’s website. These fake sites are often used to capture login credentials and personal information from unsuspecting victims. It is crucial to stay informed about these techniques to avoid falling victim to impersonation scams.

Ways to Protect Yourself from Phishing Scams
Protecting yourself from phishing scams requires a combination of caution, knowledge, and proactive measures. Firstly, ensure that your computer and devices are equipped with up-to-date antivirus software and firewalls. These security measures can help detect and block phishing attempts. Secondly, be cautious when sharing personal information online. Only provide sensitive details on secure websites with an HTTPS connection. If you are uncertain about an email, call the financial institution at a phone number you have looked up through sources other than the suspicious email and ask them whether they sent it. Additionally, regularly review your financial statements and credit reports to identify any unauthorized activity. Lastly, consider enabling multi-factor authentication whenever possible, as this adds an extra layer of security to your accounts.

Best Practices for Avoiding Email Scams
To avoid falling victim to email scams, it is essential to follow best practices for online safety. Firstly, never click on suspicious links or download attachments from unknown sources. These can contain malware or direct you to phishing websites. Secondly, be cautious when sharing personal information over email. Legitimate organizations will not request sensitive data via email, so be wary of any such requests. Additionally, regularly update your passwords and use strong, unique passwords for each online account. Lastly, educate yourself about the latest phishing techniques and scams to stay one step ahead of fraudsters.

Reporting Phishing Attempts
If you receive a phishing email impersonating a financial institution, it is crucial to report it. Most financial institutions have dedicated email addresses or phone numbers for reporting phishing attempts. Forward the suspicious email to the institution’s official contact and provide any relevant information. Reporting these scams helps financial institutions take action against fraudsters and protect other potential victims from falling prey to their schemes.

Resources for Further Education on Phishing Scams
To further educate yourself on phishing scams and enhance your knowledge of online security, several resources are available. Many financial institutions offer educational materials on their websites including tips on how to spot phishing attempts and protect yourself from scams. Additionally, reputable cybersecurity organizations and government agencies provide comprehensive guides and tutorials on identifying and avoiding phishing scams. Take advantage of these resources to stay informed and safeguard your personal and financial information.
Phishing scams continue to pose a significant threat in our increasingly digital world. By understanding how these scams work, recognizing common signs of phishing emails, and knowing how to protect yourself, you can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to fraudsters. Stay vigilant, follow best practices for online safety, and report any phishing attempts you encounter. By taking these proactive measures, you can safeguard your personal and financial information from malicious individuals seeking to exploit your trust.

The information included in this document is for general, informational purposes only. It does not contain any investment advice and does not address any individual facts and circumstances. As such, it cannot be relied on as providing any investment advice. If you would like investment advice regarding your specific facts and circumstances, please contact a qualified financial advisor.
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The historical and current information as to rules, laws, guidelines or benefits contained in this document is a summary of information obtained from or prepared by other sources. It has not been independently verified, but was obtained from sources believed to be reliable. HBKS® Wealth Advisors does not guarantee the accuracy of this information and does not assume liability for any errors in information obtained from or prepared by these other sources.
HBKS® Wealth Advisors is not a legal or accounting firm, and does not render legal, accounting or tax advice. You should contact an attorney or CPA if you wish to receive legal, accounting or tax advice.

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