Phishing: When your Computer Tricks You

by Hanz Makmur - Oct 2013.

There has been a spike in spoofing and phishing emails sent on the Internet lately. Despite Computer Science's spam and virus filters, which blocked over 80% of email daily, these malicious emails occasionally still slip through. Phishing is a very dangerous cyber threat that uses social engineering to lure people to give out sensitive personal information. Users need to get familiar and educate themselves; especially users who have other email accounts obtained from ISPs or free services.

Phishing is the act of attempting to acquire information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details (and sometimes, indirectly, money) by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. Communications purporting to be from popular social web sites, auction sites, banks, online payment processors or IT administrators are commonly used to lure unsuspecting public. -- WikiPedia

The phishing problem is worse for those using free mail systems; such as ones from ISPs like Verizon, Comcast, Optimum Online; or free email services, like Hotmail, Yahoo, and Gmail. The ISP email servers are often the source of the problem as home users fall victim and become a vehicle to distribute more malware. The public email servers are a victim in their own nature. Anyone is free to create an email account and no verification is required to get them. They are often created quickly to send malware email and then abandoned.

It is important to know that these phishing emails have only 1 target in mind: Theft!
This includes identity theft as well as stealing financial information, passwords and other sensitive information.

Common Tricks

Listed below are some common tricks used by phishing and spoofing emails that email users should be on the lookout for.

  • Official Looking Format and Familiar Style

    Phishing emails will often look official or semi-official. This is meant to make you think that the message has come from your bank, a company you know, and/or people you know and trust. They often come from compromised accounts masked to look like a company or person you trust.

  • Generic

    Always be aware of generic emails lacking details. Improperly signed emails are often phishing emails. Examples include emails from help desks, system administrators, and financial statements without your proper account information.

  • Asking for your Credentials

    The classic way of phishing is very direct. It tricks you into giving up your username and password. It could ask you to login to an official looking website, to verify your password, or to click on a suspicious link. A good example would be an email from your financial institution warning about a purchase you did not make, package delivery, free money, account closing, or even about a tax return.

  • Playing with Your Curiosity

    Another trick often tests your curiosity. Current news are often used to lure users to infected websites or click on an attachment. Fake Facebook notification emails are good examples of this type of email. Example articles include breaking news, tabloids, or even a “voicemail” which comes with an attachment. The point of the email is to take you to an infected website or open a malicious attachment. This type of email are exploiting weakness in widely used software like web browsers (especially through Java and Flash), Acrobat Reader, and Microsoft Office. Visiting a compromised website or clicking on the attachment could get your computer infected.

  • Playing with Your Good Nature

    Some phishing target your good nature. They are meant to gather sympathy from the user by pretending to be a close relative or friend in order to gain access to secure information. Examples:

  • Email from a friend or family member who is stranded and lost in some foreign country may move you to send money to help.
  • An email or text message from a family member asking for PIN number or password may wipe your bank account.
  • A Nigerian Prince who conveniently found your name in his father's will and wants to send you the appropriate large amount of money. They will ask for bank information and a small amount of money to pay the bureaucratic fee to send the money. (Because obviously the Prince of Nigeria has no money or access to his own government)

    Avoiding Phishing

    The key to avoiding Phishing is to be aware about the tricks and to be alert when you get such suspicious email. If you don't anticipate such emails, be alert before you take action. Here are a few suggestions:
    1. Never click on a link given to you via an email unless you know for sure where it takes you. Instead of clicking on a link to, simply go to your browser and retype ""

    2. Trust but Verify! Email is not a secure form of communication. It can be sent by anyone impersonating anyone. A skeptical nature is your best defense- never trust blindly. Call the person on a phone or talk to them in person when you suspect something is suspicious.

    3. No one should ever ask you to verify sensitive information via email. No Administrator, SysAdmin or Help Desk will need to know your password. If there are any problems with your account(s), they will likely contact you individually to ask you for more details or simply suspend your account pending individual verification.

    4. Use your computer properly. Using a computer as an Administrator is a bad idea. If you can install a software without any security precautions, so can a virus.

    5. Update your Computer software Microsoft users should always run Windows Update to remain up to date on security patches. There are hundreds of newly discovered vulnerabilities on computer software everyday and it only takes one to ruin your day.

    6. Phishing is not limited to the Internet. Before computer was used, criminals were using telephone calls claiming to be from businesses or people you know. They will try to convince you to reveal your sensitive personal information. Just because it is more common on the computer does not mean it won't happen on the telephone.
    Here is a video that reflect Phishings during the holidays. University IT Security and Policy, University of Rochester presents:

    Below are some sample of phishing email that were sent on the Internet. You should try familiarize yourself with some of these tricks so you have some idea what they look like. You can also see it in a slideshow mode or click individual link below.

    1. IT Helpdesk email
    1. IT Helpdesk email

    2 . IT Helpdesk email
    2. IT Helpdesk email

    3. Payroll Notice3. Payroll Notice
    4. ACH Notice4. ACH Notice
    5. Annual Renewal notice5. Annual Renewal notice
    6. STAMPS.COM Notice 6. STAMPS.COM Notice
    7. Pending Message7. Pending Message
    8. IT Helpdesk email8. IT Helpdesk email
    9. Bank notice9. Bank notice
    10. Bank Statement 10. Bank Statement
    11. Blackboard notice 11. Blackboard notice
    12. AT Notice12. AT Notice
    13. Account verification notice13. Account verification notice
    14. Account Cleanup Notice14. Account Cleanup Notice
    15. Security Notice15. Security Notice
    16. Tax Refund notice16. Tax Refund notice
    17. eFAX Notice17. eFAX Notice
    18. Security Update18. Security Update
    19. Amazon email19. Amazon email
    20. Account upgrade notice 20. Account upgrade notice
    21. Scanner Report21. Scanner Report
    22. IRS Return notice22. IRS Return notice
    23. ACH Email23. ACH Email
    24. Goverment Email24. Goverment Email
    25. LinkIn Email25. LinkIn Email
    26. Banking Notice26. Banking Notice
    27. USPS Email 27. USPS Email
    28. Bank Security notice28. Bank Security notice
    29. RBS Notice29. RBS Notice
    30. IRS Notice30. IRS Notice
    31. IRS Notice31. IRS Notice
    32. Paypal Notice32. Paypal Notice
    33. American Express Email33. American Express Email
    34. Verizon Email34. Verizon Email
    35. PayPal Notice35. PayPal Notice
    36. IRS Notice36. IRS Notice
    37. BBB Notice37. BBB Notice
    38. ATT Statements38. ATT Statements
    39. ATT Statements39. ATT Statements
    40. Apple Store Gift Card Award 40. Apple Store Gift Card Award
    41. Apple Notice41. Apple Notice
    42. Facebook notice42. Facebook notice
    43. Verizon Statements43. Verizon Statements
    44. Government notice44. Government notice
    45. Google Notice45. Google Notice
    46. Wedding Invitation46. Wedding Notice Invitaton
    47. Google Docs Notice47. Google Docs Notice
    48. FedEx Notice48. FedEx Notice
    49. Out of Space Notice49. Out of Space Notice

    Additional Info:

  • Phishings: Security Issues in Electronic Age
  • Fighting Against Identity Theft
  • Information Protection Security
  • FTC Videos
  • How Not to Get Hooked by a 'Phishing' Scam
  • Federal Reserve Frauds and Scams
  • Job Scam
  • Reporting Internet Crime Complain Center
  • More Example of Phishing