How to avoid 20 common phishing scam examples

Guy Bauman

November 20, 2023

  • # Fraud Prevention
  • # Identity Protection
  • # Phishing Protection

Sometimes, internet use feels like a threat lottery, as you cross your fingers hoping the purchase you just made was legit or the link you clicked on was safe. It can feel like phishing attacks — or fraudulent companies looking to steal sensitive information — are around every corner.

And there are so many examples of phishing scams — some of which you might not even know to avoid. Who knew a coworker copycat might steal your workplace email password or a tech support bot might be a fake? 

But don’t fret — we’re here to thoroughly outline the most common phishing attacks and how to avoid them so you can effectively secure your personal data.

What’s phishing, and how does it work?

Phishing involves scammers baiting unsuspecting individuals into revealing sensitive data such as passwords, credit card numbers, and social security numbers (SINs). 

Typically, this ruse happens via email. A fraudster pretends to be a reputable business or someone the individual trusts and urges the recipient to share sensitive information. You might directly share these details because they’ve asked for them, or the thief might send you to a seemingly legitimate website where you input details to make a purchase or fill out a form. 

Unmasking the disguise: 7 phishing attack personalities

A fraudster’s guise can take many forms, all designed to steal your info. Here's a glimpse into their wardrobe.

1. The impersonator

These emails masquerade as messages from well-known companies, adopting logos and language that mirror official communication to nudge you to offer account details.

2. The government look-alike

Faux official notices or tax-related alerts aim to stir up anxiety, often leading recipients to disclose confidential information to respect this urgency.

3. The tech support hoax

These emails, posing as support from reputable tech companies, prey on your trust, coaxing you to click on links that promise to resolve nonexistent security breaches or technical issues.

4. The charitable imposter

Capitalizing on generosity, these emails mimic charity organizations seeking donations for fake causes. This is especially common following significant disasters or during holiday seasons.

5. The banking decoy

These fraudsters mimic financial institutions and alert you to suspicious credit and debit card account activity or login attempts, hoping you'll panic and follow their fraudulent “resolution” links.

6. The reward bait

Congratulatory messages on winning contests or unexpected rewards entice you to enter personal details to “claim” a nonexistent prize.

7. The colleague clone

Emails that appear to come from coworkers or superiors requesting urgent action on documents or transfers can lead to compromised company data.

How to spot a phishing email

Vigilance is your ally in sniffing out phishing attempts. Here are a few common red flags to watch for:

  • Urgency overload: Emails pressuring you to act fast often aim to bypass your better judgment. Take a breath and consider the user’s authenticity before clicking on anything.

  • Sender mismatch: If the email claims to be from a reputable company but the sender's email address looks like a jumble of letters, that’s an indication of fraud.

  • Link landmines: Hovering over links can reveal a URL at odds with the supposed sender. If it looks suspicious, it's best left unclicked.

  • Attachment red flags: Unsolicited emails with attachments are like unmarked packages on your doorstep. Exercise caution before you “open” the surprise.

  • Typos and odd phrasing: Legitimate organizations proofread their emails. If you spot glaring grammatical errors, it might be a phish out of water.

  • Requests for sensitive information: Any email that asks for personal details, passwords, or financial information should trigger your skepticism.

20 common examples of phishing scams

It’s great knowing common red flags, but sometimes specific sample phishing email scenarios better clarify what you might find in your inbox. Here are 20 specific examples of phishing scams to watch for: 

  1. Tech support phishing email: A message from tech support claims your computer is infected, urging you to download a fix that's malware.

  2. Tax refund scam email: Emails mimicking tax authorities promise a refund but aim to harvest your financial details.

  3. Suspicious activity notice: This alarmist email reports unauthorized access to your account, luring you to a fraudulent website to verify your credentials.

  4. Social media phishing email: A deceitful note impersonates a brand profile on Instagram, baiting you with fake alerts about account issues or friend requests.

  5. Bogus payment confirmation email: Confirming a purchase you never made, the scammer hopes you'll click through to dispute the charge — only to steal your payment details.

  6. False iCloud update notification: Posing as a security alert from iCloud, the scammer asks for your login to update your account, aiming to hijack it.

  7. HR survey scam email: An email from HR invites you to complete a survey with a link that leads to a phishing site instead of a legitimate company page.

  8. Incorrect billing information notice: Alleging problems with your billing details, the thief directs you to a sham site to update your information.

  9. Google Docs scam: You receive an invitation to view a document in Google Docs, which redirects you to a phishing page where your credentials are stolen.

  10. UPS phishing email: A notification about a package delivery issue asks for personal details or payment to resolve the situation.

  11. Fake voicemail notification: An email alerting you to a new voicemail includes a link that, when clicked, installs malware on your device.

  12. Bogus invoice scam: You receive an invoice for a service or product you didn't order, which leads to a fake payment portal.

  13. Email account upgrade scam: This scammer prompts you to upgrade your email account, leading to a phishing site that captures your login details.

  14. Dropbox phishing email: A fake alert about a new document shared with you on Dropbox asks for your account credentials.

  15. CEO phishing attempt email: An urgent request, supposedly from your company's CEO, asks for a quick financial transaction.

  16. Costco phishing scam: An email offering a special reward includes a link to a fake login page.

  17. Bank scam email: Your “bank” alerts you to security issues, urging you to enter your details on a phony banking site.

  18. Fake app purchase prompt: An invoice for an app purchase you don't recognize includes a link to dispute the charge.

  19. Advanced fee scam: The emailer promises a large sum of money in exchange for a smaller upfront fee to release the funds.

  20. Account suspension email: The fraudster warns you that your account will be suspended unless you reconfirm your login details on a dubious website.

How to fortify your defenses against phishing

Want to prevent phishing altogether? Here are a few crucial steps to strengthen your email security practices:

  • Think before you click: If an email spikes your pulse with urgency, pause. Contact the company or individual through official channels, not by clicking on any provided links.

  • Update regularly: Keep your software current with the latest security patches.

  • Educate your clicks: If you’re a business user, use IronVest’s InboxGuard to better understand email phishing, turning each fraudulent email into a lesson on what to avoid. (This tool will be consumer-friendly soon.)

  • Protect your personal information: Treat your details like a state secret, verifying the authenticity of requests through established, official contact points.

  • Embrace technology: Consider IronVest’s browser extension a cybersecurity shield you don’t need to worry about, thwarting unauthorized access attempts away in the background.

Seize the shield: IronVest your digital space

Phishing emails are wolves in your inbox — but now you know what they’re wearing. 

Completely avoiding phishing scams is a tricky task, one you need not handle alone. Join the IronVest waitlist and be first in line for our AI-powered consumer phishing detection. We offer something even more valuable than cybersecurity features: peace of mind.

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