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Spearphishing:
How It Works, How to Avoid It

Unlike spam or phishing emails, which involve a broad range of targets, spearphishing is a highly targeted email attack against a specific group, organization, or even person.

Typically, phishing attacks seek to pressure would-be victims into committing some action—such as divulging their login or a credit-card number—before they think through what they’re really doing.

Here are some clues to recognize scams, and tips for what to do if you are suspicious:

  • Do not respond to the initial contact—especially if you are not expecting the email and do not know the sender.
  • If you receive an email you suspect to be malicious, drag it into your Junk folder. This will disable clickable images that are used to conceal malicious links, and will allow you to see where the link would actually take you if you were to click it.
  • Never provide personal or financial data, especially when it is requested by a stranger.
  • Do not engage the criminals in further communication.  They can use your email address to target you with more elaborate phishing schemes in the future.
  • Watch out for messages with an urgent tone—like a promise of big money if you act now, or an urgent request purportedly from a senior company executive.
  • Don’t second-guess your instinct.  If an offer sounds too good to be true, it’s probably a con.
  • Beware of messages riddled with misspelled words and poor grammar.
  • Do a web search for the organization with which the email appears to be associated.  Contact the organization directly using contact information on its website to verify the message.
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