I clicked on a phishing link: Top steps for regaining data security

Yonatan Ellman

December 03, 2023

  • # Phishing Protection
  • # Fraud Prevention
  • # Account Protection

Often sophisticated and deceptive, phishing scams are a significant threat — one that even the most cautious fall for. If you've ever clicked on a phishing link within an email or DM, you know how well-disguised these can be. And the consequences of clicking can be great, like lost credit card information and even identity theft. That’s why it’s crucial to understand the best steps for avoiding these consequences if you realize you clicked on a phishing link. 

What’s a phishing link?

A phishing link is a fraudulent link that intends to steal visitor information. Thieves typically share them in emails (but sometimes via text or an in-app DM), and these links often lead to fake websites where users are prompted to share sensitive data like login credentials, social insurance numbers (SINs), and financial information. The primary aims of these malicious links are data theft, identity fraud, and to open the door to further cyber attacks.

Identifying different types of phishing

The evolution of phishing tactics has been significant. From straightforward email schemes to intricate strategies using social media, text messages, and even phone calls, sophistication is ever-increasing.

Here are a few common types of phishing:

  • Email phishing involves emails mimicking legitimate sources that ask for sensitive information.

  • Spear phishing is more targeted, focused on specific individuals or organizations and using personalized information to appear credible.

  • Whaling targets high-profile individuals like CEOs, exploiting their access to sensitive company data.

  • Vishing (voice phishing) involves scammers using phone calls instead of emails, often posing as bank representatives or government officials.

  • Smishing (SMS phishing) is when scammers use text messages to lure victims into revealing information.

  • Clone phishing involves creating a nearly identical replica of a legitimate message, the only difference being a malicious link.

  • Search engine phishing is when scammers set up fake websites that appear in search engine results, waiting for unsuspecting users to input information.

What happens if you click on a phishing link?

Clicking on a phishing link can lead to a cascade of unwanted outcomes, like lost funds and even doxxing. And phishing links are particularly dangerous on jailbroken devices, as they lack the necessary security protections. 

Here are some potential consequences device-wide. 

Malware installation

The link may download malware onto your device, giving scammers access to your personal information or control over your computer.

Credential theft

Often, these links lead to fake login pages that steal your usernames and passwords.

Financial loss

By obtaining your financial information, scammers can make unauthorized transactions or steal your identity.

System compromise

Phishing can provide a gateway for more significant attacks, potentially compromising entire networks in organizational settings.

Emotional distress

Beyond the technical impact, falling victim to phishing can cause considerable stress and anxiety.

Understanding these risks underscores the need for preventive measures and quick action if you suspect you've clicked on a phishing link. IronVest's security-focused super app is invaluable in these situations, offering proactive protection and real-time alerts to keep your data safe.

You clicked on a phishing link: 5 steps to remediation

If you've clicked on a phishing link, immediate action is crucial. Take these five steps right away to mitigate potential damage:

  1. Disconnect from the internet: This prevents the spread of possible malware.

  2. Run a security scan: Use your antivirus software to check for and remove any malicious software. After running a security scan, clear your history and cookies from your browser to remove any residual traces.

  3. Change your passwords: This is especially important for accounts you accessed recently. But consider doing this across the board for apps that contain sensitive information. So if you clicked a link that compromises your Apple ID, immediately change your password and review your iCloud security settings. And make sure your new password is complex and not used for any other account.

  4. Notify relevant parties: Contact your bank if you suspect your financial information is compromised. Likewise, inform your workplace if you click the link on a work device.

  5. Monitor your accounts: Monitor your bank statements and credit reports for unusual activity.

These steps can significantly reduce the risk of clicking on a phishing link. In addition, consider using IronVest’s InboxGuard to avoid future phishing attempts and learn how to better spot them when they make it to your inbox.

What are common indicators of a phishing attempt?

Determining whether you've fallen victim to a phishing attempt involves scrutinizing various aspects of the communication you received. Consider the following common indicators:

  • The sender: Check if the email or message truly came from the person or organization it claims to represent. Often, phishers slightly alter the sender's domain name to trick you. If uncertain, directly contact the supposed sender through other means.

  • The content: Urgent requests for sensitive information, like banking details or your SIN, are common in phishing attempts. Be cautious of any message that pressures you to act quickly or provide personal data.

  • The spelling: Many phishing emails are marked by poor spelling and grammar, betraying their lack of authenticity.

  • The link: Hover over any links without clicking. If the URL doesn't match the alleged sender's website or seems suspicious, it's likely a phishing attempt​​.

Clarifying your queries: Phishing FAQs

Here are answers to some common questions about phishing attacks so you feel even more prepared to avoid them — or take the right steps if you accidentally interact with one.

What’s a phishing email? 

A phishing email is a fraudulent message that attempts to coerce personal information from you. To spot a phishing email, look for spelling errors, suspicious URLs, and branding that doesn’t exactly match the company the fraudster impersonates. 

Is clicking on a phishing link always dangerous?

While clicking on a phishing link can be risky, the level of danger often depends on subsequent actions, like entering personal information. The clicking itself can be harmless as long as you never provide sensitive data, like login credentials or credit card details

How do phishing scammers find their targets?

Scammers use various methods to gather potential target contact information, including data breaches, public directories, and social engineering.

Can phishing occur on social media?

Yes, phishing can occur on social media platforms, often through DMs or posts containing malicious links.

How do I report phishing emails in Outlook and Gmail?

In Outlook, you can report phishing emails by selecting the suspicious message and going to the "Junk" option in the toolbar. From the dropdown menu, choose "Phishing" to report it. Microsoft will receive a report for the email, which will improve future email filtering. In Gmail, select the suspicious message and click the “Report spam” button in the menu bar above your emails. You can also download IronVest’s anti-phishing software for Gmail when you sign up for the app.

What are the signs of a phishing email?

Look for generic greetings, misspellings, urgent requests for information, and links or attachments that seem suspicious.

How can I protect myself from phishing scams?

Be cautious with emails and messages from unknown sources, avoid clicking suspicious links, and use comprehensive security solutions like IronVest to safeguard your digital activities.

Let IronVest bolster your digital defenses

Phishing scams are a persistent threat, but you can effectively defend yourself against them with the right knowledge and tools. Recognizing phishing attempts and understanding the appropriate actions is a great start. But as you navigate the complexities of online security, remember that IronVest is here to help. 

Our security and privacy-focused super app protects against phishing and other cyber threats, helping you maintain privacy, security, and peace of mind. Currently, we offer an anti-phishing solution for business users (Outlook only), but a consumer-friendly option for Gmail users is coming soon.

Discover IronVest today and take a significant step toward enhancing your online safety.

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