Many people would say the internet has been a marvellous innovation that has opened up a whole wealth of information to people around the world, and from that perspective, it’s very difficult to argue with. However, the internet is certainly not without its faults.

Policing the internet has proved to be a massive problem probably very few people foresaw. The truth is there is nothing like the resources required to investigate every case of criminality online. Whether it’s trolls using social media to send mindless and abusive messages, inflammatory content being posted on social media or the millions of online scams that are attempted every single day, it really is the wild west out there and the only person who can protect yourself is you.

The ever-present threat of phishing scams

One of the biggest threats online is the phishing scam. An astonishing 156 million phishing scams are sent every day. Fortunately, most of those are caught by spam filters but many still manage to get through. Those that do are becoming increasingly sophisticated, convincing and unfortunately, successful. So much so that just one type of scam, a BEC, a type of phishing attack in which criminals target businesses that frequently send international wire transfers, is costing American companies around $500million a year.

And no one is safe. While businesses around the world are incurring huge losses, so are members of the public. The online lender Wonga South Africa recently created its own phishing scam prevention tips to try and keep its customers safe after they were targeted last year. And that begs the question: just what can businesses and private individuals do to keep themselves safe online?

Protecting yourself from phishing scams

With phishing scams now so common, it’s essential everyone who uses the internet is aware of the threats and puts safeguards in place to protect themselves. While some phishing scams are easy to identify, such as the mysterious benefactor scam, some are much more sophisticated. For that reason, you need to be on your guard by following these tips…

  1. Always look at email handles

 A legitimate email from a reputable organisation will always be sent from an email address with the business’s own branded handle. Emails purporting to be from legitimate businesses that use free accounts such as Hotmail or Outlook should be disregarded immediately. However, some sophisticated phishing scams will use email handles that are very close to the genuine company emails, so this measure alone will not necessarily protect you.

  1. Avoid visiting websites by clicking links

The trouble with clicking on a link, even if it looks genuine, is that you never know where it’s going to take you. Instead, unless you can be 100 percent sure the email is from a legitimate sender, you should go directly to the company website whenever possible and find the page you need from there.

  1. Whitelist important contacts

If you have a trusted company or organisation that sends you sensitive information from time to time then ‘whitelisting’ them will help to separate the legitimate sender from spammers that could try and impersonate them. Most email providers give you the option to whitelist contacts and that can certainly help.

  1. Check privacy agreements

Most organisations have policies about the type of information they will and won’t request via email or SMS. If you’re not sure whether a message is genuine you can always check those agreements. However, as a simple rule of thumb, a legitimate company will never ask for sensitive information by email or SMS.

  1. Use Malware protection

Last but certainly not least, always use Malware protection software. If you do click a link in an email that you mistakenly thought was legitimate, this will provide some degree of protection.

Have you fallen foul of a phishing scam? What type of scam was it and what was the result? Share your experiences with our readers in the comments below.