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March 10, 2024

Navigating the Influx of Phishing Email Scams: A Guide for Website Owners

Email Phishing Scam

In the ever-evolving digital landscape, website owners face a multitude of challenges, one of the most insidious being phishing scams. These scams cleverly masquerade as legitimate inquiries or concerns but harbor malicious intent, aimed at misleading website owners into clicking harmful links. A prime example of such a phishing attempt is a message to several of our clients (and us, highlighting it’s generic and out there), where the sender, Karl, warns about a potentially damaging article and provides a suspicious link for more information.

The Initial Alarm and Overcoming Concern

The first reaction to receiving a message like Karl’s is often concern or alarm. This emotional response is exactly what scammers rely on to cloud your judgment. It’s crucial to approach such messages with a healthy dose of skepticism and a clear mind. Remember, the goal of these scammers is to exploit your fear of reputational damage or curiosity.

Identifying a Phishing Attempt

  1. Examine the Email Content: Phishing attempts often contain urgent or alarming language to create a sense of panic. Be wary of messages that press for immediate action.

  2. Check for Generic Greetings: Scammers usually send bulk messages with generic greetings like “Dear website owner” or may not include a personalized greeting at all.

  3. Hover Over the Link: This is a crucial step. By hovering your cursor over any link provided in the email, you can preview the URL. Be on the lookout for misspellings, unfamiliar domain names, or URLs that do not match the context of the message. For example, the shortened link “https://ibit.ly/8wSkl” in Karl’s message hides the actual destination, a common red flag in phishing scams. Another common scam is an email from a recognised company but when you hover over a link it is not the company’s URL…

  4. Look for Inconsistencies: Grammatical errors, awkward language, or inconsistent formatting are tell-tale signs of a phishing attempt.

  5. Verify the Sender’s Information: If possible, cross-check the sender’s details with known contacts or databases. In many cases, the sender’s email address may be from a suspicious domain or completely unrelated to the content of the message.

  6. Be Cautious with Shortened URLs: Scammers often use URL shortening services to disguise malicious links. Approach any shortened URL with caution, especially if it’s from an unfamiliar source.

The Rise of Contact Form-Based Phishing

A worrying trend is the use of website contact forms for phishing. These forms, meant for legitimate business inquiries, are being exploited by scammers to directly send their deceitful messages. This method bypasses traditional email filters, making it more challenging to detect and block these attempts.

It’s disappointing with all the money that online services now charge us for Google Ads, Facebook/Meta Ads etc, that the responsibility for dealing with this isn’t fully on their shoulders, however there of course is always some form of personal responsibility…

Preventative Measures

  1. Implement CAPTCHA: Adding a CAPTCHA to your contact form can prevent automated bots from sending phishing attempts.

  2. Educate Your Team: Ensure that anyone who has access to your website is aware of these phishing tactics and knows how to identify suspicious messages.

  3. Regularly Update Security Measures: Keep your website’s security software and protocols up to date to combat evolving phishing techniques.

  4. Use a Website Security Service: Consider employing a security service that specializes in identifying and blocking phishing attempts.

  5. Create a Reporting Protocol: Establish a process for reporting and investigating suspicious messages received through contact forms.

The Role of Your IT Company

  1. Regular Security Audits: Your IT company can conduct thorough security audits to identify potential vulnerabilities in your website and suggest improvements.

  2. Advanced Email Filtering Solutions: They can implement advanced email filtering solutions that go beyond basic spam filters, thus reducing the chances of phishing emails reaching your inbox.

  3. Employee Training Programs: IT service providers can conduct training sessions for your staff, teaching them how to recognize and respond to phishing attempts.

  4. Incident Response Planning: In the event of a successful phishing attack, having a well-defined incident response plan, developed in collaboration with your IT company, is vital.

Final Thoughts

Phishing scams like the one from “Karl”  are a stark reminder of the constant vigilance required in the digital realm. By staying informed, scrutinizing every suspicious message, and implementing robust security measures, website owners can better navigate these deceptive waters and protect their online presence from these cunning threats.

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