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  • Identity criminals can compromise people’s phones and devices through weaknesses in the device operating software, applications and SIM swaps.
  • To protect your device from a tablet or phone hack, automatically download patches and software updates as soon as they are available, set up your lock screen to use biometrics or a password/passcode/PIN, enable “Find My…” device features, only download apps from the device manufacturer’s app stores, and avoid public Wi-Fi if possible.
  • You will know if you suffered a tablet or phone hack if you can’t make or receive calls, access your device, or there are calls and text messages that you did not initiate. Certain kinds of malware can also slow your device and result in your battery draining faster.
  • If you believe you’ve been compromised, pull out your SIM card, contact your carrier and be prepared to reset your phone or tablet.
  • To learn more, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center. You can speak with an advisor toll-free by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat on the company website www.idtheftcenter.org.

As phones and tablets become more and more like portable mini-computers and the world moves towards digital versions of paper documents and currency, more personal data is stored on our devices. This makes them attractive targets for thieves who want to steal or sell your information or impersonate you, which could lead to you having your tablet or phone hacked. Many people are afraid of being hacked, but does being “hacked” truly mean?

People think of being hacked as a third-party gaining access to a device through some highly specialized technology where they’re able to crack passwords and get around device security. When it comes to tablet and phone hacks, that usually isn’t the case. Unfortunately, it can be much simpler than that for a thief to gain access to a device because of our own behaviors.

How They Access Your Device (While You Still Have It)

  • Through known weaknesses in the device software – those software update notices you get are to patch those weaknesses and add new features. If the device doesn’t have the latest update, it’s open to known vulnerabilities.
  • Through downloads – app downloads or clicking on links that download software.
  • SIM swap – a criminal calls your carrier pretending to be you and moves your phone number and backup data to another device.

How to Protect Yourself or Your Mobile Device

  • Download patches and software updates as they become available.
  • Only download apps from approved app stores from the maker of your device (Google, Samsung, Apple, Microsoft, for example). These apps have been through a review process to help ensure your safety and security. Some devices and applications are more security and privacy respectful than others. Be sure to do your research first.
    • Look at the data collection notice – the more data they want to collect from you, the less legitimate the app developer may be.
    • Look for apps that have high ratings from a large number of people.
    • Watch out for apps that tell you to download directly from their site instead of through a manufacturer’s app store.
  • Don’t download apps directly from a website. Cybercriminals create legitimate-looking websites with malware-filled applications for download. The only way to reduce your risk of a tablet or phone hack is to avoid direct downloads and rely on your device maker’s app store.
  • Don’t use public Wi-Fi for your mobile devices or laptop.

How to Protect Your Device If It’s Lost or Stolen

  • Report your mobile phone or SIM card-enabled tablet as stolen to your mobile carrier. The carrier can disable the service and recognize the device if someone tries to connect it to a new or different account.
  • Make sure you have the “Find My…” device enabled for your phone, tablet and smartwatch. If your device is lost or stolen and the SIM card has not been removed, you can locate the device or disable it so it cannot be used until returned. If the SIM card has been removed, that defeats the “Find My” feature.
  • Set up your lock screen to use biometrics, a password, or passcode (PIN). This will make your device difficult, if not virtually impossible, to compromise depending on the device maker.

How to Know if Your Device Was Compromised

  • You can’t make outbound calls or receive inbound calls.
  • You can’t open your device or access your apps.
  • There are outbound calls or texts not initiated by you.
  • You’re using more data than usual.
  • Your battery is draining faster than normal, but you’re still using the device the same amount of time, performing the same tasks as usual.

What to Do if You’ve Been “Hacked”

  • Pull your SIM card.
  • Contact your carrier for a mobile phone or tablet with a SIM card.
  • Be prepared to reset your phone or tablet if asked by your carrier. You can usually do this through your phone account or restore your device to the factory settings.
  • If your tablet is Wi-Fi only, contact your device maker’s support department.
  • Be careful if using a backup to restore your settings. Your backup may include malware, so consider only restoring your data and not your applications. You can reload the latest versions of your applications from the original app store.

Contact the ITRC

If you believe you have suffered a tablet or phone hack and want to learn more, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center. You can speak with an expert advisor toll-free by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat on the company website. Just visit www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.

  • When the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) was founded nearly 22 years ago, the root cause of most data breaches and data crimes involved paper. Now, it is far and away cyberattacks.
  • Phishing is the number one attack vector that leads to data breaches, ransomware second and malware third.
  • However, there are ways to protect yourself from cyberattacks. Back up your information, update your software, use strong and unique passphrases, and collect and maintain less information.
  • To learn about recent data breaches, consumers and businesses should visit the ITRC’s data breach tracking tool, notified. 
  • If you believe you are the victim of an identity crime, data breach or want to learn more ways to protect yourself from cyberattacks, contact the ITRC. Call toll-free at 888.400.5530 or live-chat on the company website www.idtheftcenter.org.

The Crimes, They Are Changing

Welcome to the Identity Theft Resource Center’s (ITRC’s)Weekly Breach Breakdown for October 15, 2021. Our podcast is possible thanks to support from Experian. Each week, we look at the most recent events and trends related to data security and privacy. We also use a lot of literary references – especially Shakespeare. Today, though, we turn to a different classic for inspiration – Bob Dylan – in honor of Cybersecurity Awareness Month. October is the time each year when you focus on ways to protect yourself from cyberattacks and other identity crimes. That’s why we’re calling today’s episode: The crimes, they are changing.

The Rise in Digital Data Theft

When the ITRC was founded nearly 22 years ago, the root cause of most data breaches and data crimes involved paper. Digital data theft didn’t arrive until the mid-2000s. Even then, it was usually because someone’s laptop or external hard drive was stolen.

Not so today. Physical attacks and human errors were once the leading cause of data compromises. Today it is far and away cyberattacks. In fact, cyberattacks are so common that the number of data breaches and exposures associated with them so far this year exceeds all forms of data compromises in 2020.

Phishing is the leading attack vector that leads to data breaches. The login and password credentials stolen in these email, text and website-related attacks are often used by cybercriminals to access company networks and databases held hostage in a ransomware assault – the second most common cause of data compromises.

Malware is the third leading cause of identity-related data breaches. It is often used to exploit software flaws or penetrate networks as part of a ransomware attack or just good old-fashioned data theft. Caught in the cross-hairs of all these cyberattacks are consumers – people whose data is held in trust by organizations that are the targets of cybercriminals.

The ITRC to Release Inaugural Business Aftermath Report

We often think of data breaches and ransomware only impacting big businesses whose names we recognize. However, later this month, the ITRC will issue a new report on the impact of identity crimes on small businesses and solopreneurs – the tens of millions of companies with zero or just a handful of employees. Without giving away too much right now, the research shows more than half of all small businesses have experienced one or more data breaches, security breaches or both.

Use Good Cyber-Hygiene Habits to Protect Yourself

What are some ways to protect yourself from cyberattacks both at work and at home?  The actions must be the same. Regular listeners already know the basics of a good cyber defense. Make good back-ups of your information, update or patch your software as fast as possible, and practice good password hygiene. Do not use the same password at work and at home. Each account gets a unique, 12+ character password.

There are two additional ways to protect yourself from cyberattacks you should consider:

  1. Collect and maintain less information. If you are a business, get rid of the personal data you no longer need once you complete a transaction. The same is true for consumers. Don’t keep sensitive information you no longer need. Cyberthieves can’t steal what you don’t have.
  2.  If you are a business leader, train your teams like you’re voting in Chicago – early and often. If you’re a consumer, you can use some routine training, too. Why is this important? Cybercriminals are constantly improving their attack methods and inventing new ones. We need to make sure we know what to do to stay safe from identity scams and cyber risks, and that takes training and education.

Contact the ITRC

If you think you have been the victim of an identity crime or a data breach and need help figuring out what to do next, you can speak with an expert advisor on the phone (888.400.5530), live on the web or exchange emails during our normal business hours. Just visit www.idtheftcenter.org.

Thanks again to Experian for supporting the ITRC and this podcast. Be sure to join us next week for our sister podcast, The Fraudian Slip, when we talk more about cyber education with Zarmeena Waseem of the National Cybersecurity Alliance and our very own ITRC CEO, Eva Velasquez. We will be back in two weeks with another episode of the Weekly Breach Breakdown.

  • E-signature scams are rising as remote workers rely more on services like DocuSign, HelloSign and other similar services. Recently, some employees at the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) received phishing emails that claimed to have an invoice to sign that was attached to the email.  
  • Other e-signature email scams ask people to enter their personal and financial information, claiming that they either have a notification or their account was suspended.  
  • These e-signature scams and phishing attacks can lead to malware and stolen personal and financial data used to commit different forms of identity crimes.  
  • To avoid these scams, you should ignore any emails you are not expecting, never click on any unknown links and reach out directly to the person the email claims to come from to verify the validity of the message.  
  • If anyone believes they are a victim of an e-signature scam or wants to learn more, they can contact the ITRC toll-free by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat. Just go to www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.  

DocuSign and similar services that offer verified electronic signatures have grown in popularity since COVID-19. According to one e-signature company’s recent financial report, their total revenue has increased by more than 50 percent. It’s no surprise more people need the services of an e-signature company. It is also no surprise that e-signature scams are spiking as a result. Multiple Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) employees recently received emails claiming to be from DocuSign with “invoices” attached: 

While convenient, e-signature services give threat actors another way to steal identities and financial and personal data. Consumers should keep an eye out for e-signature email scams so they don’t fall victim to a phishing attack.  

Who are the Targets? 

DocuSign users; Email users; Employees 

What is the Scam? 

In the latest e-signature scams, criminals send phishing emails claiming to come from “DocuSign Electronic Service.” The subject line typically tells users they received an invoice or notification from a service – DocuSign Electronic Service – for example. The emails contain malicious attachments that could lead to malware. Other e-signature scams tell people that they have a notification or their account is suspended and to click on a link and enter their personal and financial information. 

What They Want 

Criminals commit malware attacks and steal people’s personal and financial information to execute an array of identity crimes. They use the information to access people’s bank accounts, credit card accounts and work accounts, or they sell the personal information to other criminals. 

How to Avoid Being Scammed 

  • If you have not been requested to sign any documents, be wary of an email asking you to sign something. It is probably a phishing attack. 
  • Look for misspellings in the email. Sometimes scammers will alter a letter in the sender’s email address, hoping you do not notice. For example, if it is a DocuSign email scam, the sender address may be “@docsgn.com” instead of “@docusign.com.” 
  • Always check the sender’s email. If the email comes from an address or name you do not recognize, ignore it. If it claims to be from someone you work with, contact that person directly and ask them if they sent you the document. 
  • Never click on any links in an email you are not expecting. Instead, contact the source of the email directly to verify the validity of the email. 
  • If you’ve receive a phishing email, report it. You can report it to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/complaint.  

To learn more about e-signature scams, or if you believe you were the victim of an e-signature email scam, contact the ITRC toll-free by calling 888.400.5530. You can also visit the company website to live-chat with an expert advisor. Go to www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.   

  • A new Google Photo sharing scam is the latest attempt to steal your credentials to hack and access your accounts.
  • You receive a message claiming to be from Google Photo that says someone is sharing a photo album with you. You’re asked to log into your account, except the message isn’t real, and the criminals take off with your Google credentials.
  • If you receive a message you are not expecting or from someone you don’t know, don’t click on any link in the message.
  • If you want to learn more about the Google Photo sharing scam or if you are a victim, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free at 888.400.5530 or by live-chat. Just visit www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.

Scammers always try to find different ways to attack consumers. One new attempt is through a text or email that appears to come from Google Photo. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) recently received a suspicious message that appeared to be a legitimate attempt to share a Google Photo album. However, it was actually a phishing scam.

Like many phishing attacks, the Google Photo sharing scam is an attempt to steal your credentials. The tactic has become more common with cybercriminals shifting away from attacks seeking consumer information and towards attacks that target logins and passwords. 

Who is the Target?

Text message users; email users

What is the Scam?

You receive what appears to be a real attempt to share a Google Photo album. The message claims that someone has shared a photo album with you. However, there is no photo album. Once you click the “View Photo” link, you are prompted to another website to log into your Google account. Since the website captures the login information, you then provide the identity thieves with access to your credentials and account.

What They Want

It’s always easier to steal something when you have the key to a lock instead of having to break into where valuables are kept. Identity criminals want to access personal and work accounts because that’s easier and faster than trying to break into a system. The Google Photo sharing scam is a way for identity criminals to get the credentials needed to access and steal personal and company information. According to the FBI, email compromises cost U.S. businesses $1.8 billion, and phishing schemes cost individuals $54 million in 2020.

How to Avoid Being Scammed

  • Never click on a link in a suspicious or unexpected message. While the message might look legitimate, the links and attachments could still have malware. Instead, if the message comes from a “company,” reach out to the company directly to verify whether the message is real. If it comes from an unknown person, delete the message without clicking any links.
  • Check the URL link and be on the lookout for short links. Sometimes, there are signs in the link that give away it is a scam. For example, a link address might read “Goo.gle” instead of “Google.” You are more likely to see that when a link is shortened, a favorite tactic of cybercriminals. Another tactic is typing out a hyperlinked text to what looks like a legitimate website (like Google.com). However, it actually displays an unknown site when you hover over the link.
  • Use Multifactor Authentication (MFA) on important accounts. Even trained cybersecurity professionals fall for sophisticated phishing attempts that look real. That’s why it’s important to use MFA on any account that offers the feature. Use an authenticator app when possible – Microsoft and Google offer them for free – because they are more secure than just having a code texted to your mobile device. With MFA in place, having your login and password won’t help a criminal access your protected accounts.
  • Never reuse or share passwords. Criminals steal logins and passwords because they know most people use the same password on multiple accounts. Too many people also use the same passwords at home and work. Make sure each account has a unique password that is at least 12 characters long.

If you believe you are a victim of a Google Photo sharing scam or would like to learn more, contact the ITRC toll-free. You can call (888.400.5530) or use the live-chat function on the company website. Just go to www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.   

  • The third round of stimulus payments is on the way. Scammers are aware, too, which means another round of scams as well.
  • Remember, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will not text, email or call anyone about a stimulus payment. If someone receives an unsolicited message from someone claiming to be with the IRS, it is probably a stimulus payment scam. Consumers should contact the IRS directly to verify before they respond. 
  • Offers that require people to pay to receive a stimulus benefit or to use a service to get a payment faster are also signs of a stimulus payment scam. 
  • Consumers can track their new stimulus checks once they are sent. Then can visit the IRS “Get My Payment” page to follow their payments.  
  •  To learn more about stimulus payment scams, the new stimulus payment or if someone suspects they are the victim of a stimulus scam, they can contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free at 888.400.5530 or by live-chat on the company website.  

New Stimulus Payments Approved by Lawmakers 

Lawmakers voted to approve the third stimulus package since the coronavirus pandemic. The package includes a $1,400 stimulus payment for anyone who earns $75,000 or less (the payments start to phase out at $75,000), extends jobless aid supplement and programs making more people eligible for unemployment insurance, and much more. However, it could mean more stimulus payment scams.

Late in 2020, lawmakers agreed on a new stimulus package, which included a $600 stimulus payment for anyone who earned $75,000 or less. There was also a reduced payment for anyone who made $75,000-$99,000.

In the spring of 2020, the first batch of stimulus payments assisted Americans in need of financial relief due to the economic impacts of COVID-19. Criminals took advantage of the situation by offering to help benefit recipients speed access to their stimulus funds. Criminals stole checks from nursing home residents, out of people’s mailboxes, and even from postal trucks. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) saw some of those methods used to steal identity information and stimulus payments the second time around, and expect to see it again. The ITRC has also had a sharp rise in reported stolen stimulus payments and stimulus payment scams cases.

As of March 10, 2021, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had logged more than 382,000 consumer complaints related to COVID-19 and stimulus payments totaling more than $366 million in losses. Two-thirds of the complaints involved fraud or identity theft. The median fraud loss per person is $325.

New stimulus checks mean more scams are on the way. With more stimulus payment fraud expected, consumers should know how to spot a scam and what to do if an identity criminal contacts them.

Possible Stimulus Payment Scams 

According to the Washington Post, researchers recently discovered a campaign of thousands of emails that sought to trick Americans into filling out a phony form to “apply” for American Rescue Plan checks from the IRS before the third stimulus package was even passed by congress. The emails encouraged recipients to download an Excel sheet that launched malicious software that steals personal banking information and other login credentials once downloaded.

Criminals use different schemes to trick people, and they can be expected to do the same this time, as seen above. Here are a few things for people to watch for that indicate that someone might be the target of a stimulus payment scam:

  • Text messages and emails about stimulus payments – Criminals use text messages and emails to send malicious links in hopes that people will click on them to divulge personal information or insert malware onto someone’s device. If anyone receives a text message or email about a stimulus check or direct deposit with a link to click or a file to open, they should ignore it. It’s a scam because the IRS will not contact anyone unsolicited by text, email or phone to discuss a stimulus payment. 
  • Asked to verify financial information – The IRS will not call, text or email anyone to verify their information. If information needs to be confirmed, people will be directed to an IRS web page. This includes retirees who might not typically file a tax return.  
  • A fake check in the mail – Anyone who earns $75,000 or less will get $1,400. People who make between $75,000-$80,000 will receive a reduced amount. Anyone who gets a check and has questions about the amount, or thinks the check seems suspicious, should contact the IRS.
  • Offers for faster payments – Any claim offering payment faster through a third-party is a scam. All new stimulus checks will come from the IRS, and the IRS says there is no way to expedite a payment.  
  • Pay to get a check – No one has to pay to receive a stimulus check. New stimulus checks will be deposited directly into the same banking account used for previous stimulus payments or the most recent tax refund. If the IRS does not have someone’s direct deposit information, a check or prepaid card will be mailed to the last known address on file at the IRS.
  • Stolen checks – The ITRC has received numerous complaints from consumers about their stimulus checks being stolen. If anyone believes their payment is stolen, they should visit IDTheft.gov, where they can report, “Someone filed a Federal tax return – or claimed an economic stimulus payment – using my information.”

What to Do If You’re a Victim of Stimulus Payment Scams 

 If anyone believes their information may have been compromised or their stimulus payment was stolen, the IRS suggests people report it to the IRS and FTC simultaneously through IdentityTheft.gov. If anyone wants to learn more about stimulus payment scams or if someone believes they are the victim of a stimulus payment scam, they may also contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free. Consumers can call (888.400.5530) or live-chat on the website. People can go to www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.

The post was originally published on 12/22/20 and was updated on 3/10/21

  • The Identity Theft Resource Center’s (ITRC) 2020 Data Breach Report shows 62 percent of cyberattacks that led to data breaches in 2020 involved phishing and ransomware.  
  • Google and Stanford University study reveals that people with more than one device are more likely to be struck by a phishing attempt. It also says that Australia is the most targeted country for phishing attacks
  • Proofpoint Security study says people who had personal data exposed in a third-party breach were five times more likely to be targeted by phishing or malware. 
  • All three reports make the same point about the rise in phishing attacks – a data breach does not mean someone’s identity has been misused. It means people impacted are at increased risk of becoming an identity crime victim. 
  • For information about recent data breaches, consumers and businesses should visit the ITRC’s new data breach tracking tool, notified
  • For more information, or if someone believes they are the victim of identity theft, consumers can contact the ITRC toll-free at 888.400.5530 or via live-chat on the company website www.idtheftcenter.org.  

Welcome to the Identity Theft Resource Center’s (ITRC) Weekly Breach Breakdown for February 12, 2021. Each week, we look at the most recent and interesting events and trends related to data security and privacy. This week we talk about what seems to be the average cybercriminals’ favorite pastime – phishing and the rise in phishing attacks. Phishing with a ph. In Troilus & Cressida, Shakespeare’s incredibly complex play about the Trojan War, the main character compares the great lengths some people go to deceive the search for the other kind of fishing that gives rise to our episode title: 

Whiles others fish with craft for great opinion, 

I with great truth catch mere simplicity 

ITRC 2020 Data Breach Report & the Rise in Phishing Attacks 

Two weeks ago, the ITRC released our annual data breach analysis, which pointed out that 62 percent of cyberattacks that led to data breaches in 2020 involved phishing and ransomware. Phishing was in the number one position because it is a simple attack to execute. 

Google and Stanford University Study Reveals New Phishing Attack Findings 

This week, Google and Stanford University released a new study that looked at the 1.2 billion phishing emails aimed at Gmail users during a five-month period in 2020. Among the findings: 

  • People are more at risk of a phishing attempt if they have more than one device. If someone only has a desktop or laptop, or only has a smartphone, they are less likely to be a target. The conclusion is if someone has multiple devices, they have more of an online presence. It is the same if someone sends a lot of emails – they are five times more likely to be phished if they do. 
  • Older users are targeted more frequently than younger people. Someone between the ages of 55-64-years-old is 1.6 times more likely to be the target of a phishing scheme than someone who is 18-24-years-old. One potential reason is that the older someone gets, the bigger their footprint, which makes them easier to find. 

People in Australia are More Likely to be Targeted by a Phishing Attack 

Who in the world do you think is the most targeted country? This will surprise you. While U.S. residents send more emails by volume than any other country, people in Australia are more likely to be targeted for a phishing attack than anyone else. In fact, the odds are nearly double that they will be phish bait down under.  

The U.S is number 16 when it comes to the likelihood of being targeted on a country adjusted basis. This is the point where we need to ask once again – why is there a rise in phishing attacks? 

Third-Party Breaches and Their Impact on the Rise in Phishing Attacks 

Proofpoint Security reported this week a 14 percent increase in malicious phishing emails in 2020 over the previous year. Here is the truly staggering statistic: People who had personal data exposed in a third-party breach were five times more likely to be targeted by phishing or malware, according to the report, which highlights just how damaging these types of data breaches can be, even in the long run. 

What the Reports Mean for Consumers  

The report comes on the heels of the announcement of the release in an identity marketplace of the largest set of logins and passwords ever compiled. Around 3.2 billion credentials were stolen in previous data breaches and bundled in a single file. All of these reports – from the ITRC, Google and Stanford University, and Proofpoint make the same point – a data breach does not mean someone’s identity has been misused. It means people those impacted are at increased risk of becoming an identity crime victim. 

To quote Proofpoint: 

“Our results suggest that data breaches expose users to lasting harms due to the lack of viable remediation options.” 

Contact the ITRC 

If anyone has questions about protecting their information from data breaches and data exposures before they happen, visit www.idtheftcenter.org, where there are helpful tips on phishing attacks and many other topics – including the 2020 Data Breach Report

If someone believes they have already been the victim of an identity crime or a data breach and needs help figuring out what to do next, contact us to speak with an expert advisor on the phone (888.400.5530), chat live on the web or exchange emails during our normal business hours (6 a.m.-5 p.m. PST). Just visit www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.  

Be sure to check out the most recent episode of our sister podcast – The Fraudian Slip – with a special guest from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). We will be back next week for another Weekly Breach Breakdown. 

  • A new unsubscribe email scam tries to scare people into “unsubscribing” from confirmation emails coming from an adult dating list.
  • The unsubscribe button could lead to malware or to a form to steal your personal information.
  • Anyone who receives a suspicious email they are not expecting should ignore it and not click on any links, open any attachments, or download any files. Users can also report the email as spam.
  • For more information, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free at 888.400.5530. You can also live-chat with an expert advisor on the company website.

Scammers are always looking for new ways to dupe consumers into turning over their personal information or spreading malware to one of their devices. A new unsubscribe email scam reported to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) tries to trick people into clicking an “unsubscribe button” that could be either a malicious link or a form to steal your personal information.

Who It Is Targeting

Email users

What It Is

A “confirmation” email that claims you received a private message from an adult dating website. The fake email asks the user to confirm by entering their email address and name, and it gives people an option to “unsubscribe” if they would like to stop receiving the adult dating list emails. Scammers use scare tactics such as an email from an adult website in hopes people will click the “unsubscribe” button.

What They Are After

Entering your email address and name into the confirmation email gives cybercriminals the personal information needed to commit identity crimes. Clicking the “unsubscribe” button could lead to malware infecting your device, or to a form that asks for your personal information.

What You Can Do

  • If you receive a suspicious or unexpected message that includes links or asks for your information, ignore it. If it claims to be from a legitimate company, go directly to the source to verify the validity of the message.
  • Do not click on any links, open any attachments, or download any files in an email or text unless you confirm it is legitimate.
  • Use your email provider’s “spam” feature to report the email as junk rather than clicking unsubscribe.

If you believe you have fallen victim to an unsubscribe email scam or have additional questions, call the ITRC toll-free at 888.400.5530. You can also live-chat with an expert advisor on the company website.

Phishing attacks are nothing new. However, with scammers increasingly using sophisticated and new methods of harming recipients that experts are not as familiar with, being able to identify a phishing attack has never been more important. They can arrive as emails, texts, social media messages, phone calls or links to websites which appear to come from someone the victim knows or a legitimate business. It might look like a boss or co-worker, someone in an email contact list, a bank or a consumer’s favorite retailer.

Trusted brands are used to provide an air of credibility for scammers, who capitalize on the good reputation and relationships these brands have built. Some brands that have been used in phishing attacks to target consumers include Wells Fargo, Zoom, American Express, Apple and Microsoft. The companies being used are not involved in these scams; in many ways, they are victims of the scammer as much as the targeted consumer.

Every phishing attack has a different goal, depending on what kind of ruse they are using. Some use links or attachments to insert malicious code on the user’s device so they can collect more information. Others attempt to steal people’s personal and business usernames or passwords,  and others still try to get someone to click on a well-disguised link so they can divert them to a place where the user enters even more information that the fraudster will use to his or her benefit. While phishing attacks have different objectives, the attackers’ primary goal is to steal the information needed to scam individuals and businesses.

Fortunately, the age-old advice about avoiding a phishing attack still holds true. These are some things people should keep in mind when trying to identify a phishing attack.

Check the email address and URL to make sure it is not fake

Check unexpected inbound messages very carefully, paying special attention to the sender’s email or website address included in the message; they might notice something strange. If it says “Amaz0n.com,” for example, it is fake. If the website link is Citibank.card.shop.com (as an example), instead of the company’s actual web address, again, it is probably fake. Always go back to the source of the email (or in this case, the company that is being represented) and check for alerts about potential scams of which they are already aware. Many times, the company is aware and has posted information about the scam.

Received an unexpected email, text, social media message or phone call with a link or an attachment?  Consumers should reach out directly to the purported “source” of the communication to verify the validity of the message before clicking on a link or opening an attachment (as mentioned above). Clicking on a malicious link or opening a bogus attachment could lead to someone’s personal information being stolen or infect the device with malware.

Check the message for grammatical errors and awkward phrasing

Read unexpected messages carefully and with a critical eye. Grammatical errors and awkward language are two quick indicators that the email isn’t sent by the company indicated. In trying to identify a phishing attack, customers should remember that companies do not send out emails or other messages with glaring errors – in most cases, large, reputable companies have teams checking their communications for just those types of issues. Smaller businesses may have a looser communication style, but loyal customers will know if something is “off.”  If someone sees any strange mistakes, that is probably a sign it is a fake. In fact, sometimes spelling mistakes are intentional so that only more gullible recipients will interact.

Never trust the caller ID

Do not go by what the caller ID may say. It is easy for a scammer to change the phone number or screen name to say anything, like “IRS” or “County Sheriff’s Department.” If someone calls with an attempt to verify identity information or demands for some kind of payment, consumers should hang up immediately and initiate contact with the company directly using a verified phone number from a trusted source. Here’s a tip: people should put numbers in their contact list for companies that are used regularly – but name them something only they would identify. For example, list the bank as “Bank on 4th & Main St.” instead of by the bank’s name. That way, if there’s an inbound call from the number, the person receiving the call will know they can trust it.

Remember that in many cases, fraudsters are using websites that look like the companies they are pretending to be. A web search could also bring someone to a potential fraudulent site. People should always treat the search results with the same critical eye as they would these other steps.

Phishing attacks can be confusing because of how close to real they can look or sound. Scam websites, emails, phone calls and text messages that mimic trusted brands will continue. However, by implementing these tips to identify a phishing attack, it will help reduce the risk of falling for a phishing attack.

Anyone with additional questions about phishing attacks, or believes they have been a victim of one, can call the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free at 888.400.5530 to speak with an expert advisor. They can also use the live-chat feature on the website to get the help they need.


People are spending more time on their phones, tablets and computers now than ever, making the importance of cyber-hygiene tips as paramount as they’ve ever been. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) wants to highlight some of the best practices and steps that users can take to improve their online security.

We recommend everyone make these cyber-hygiene tips part of their regular routine to greatly reduce their risk of identity theft or other cybersecurity compromises.

1. Use a secure connection and a VPN to connect to the internet

A virtual private network (VPN) is a digital tool that keeps outsiders, such as hackers, identity thieves, spammers and even advertisers from seeing online activity. Users should also be wary of public Wi-Fi. While public Wi-Fi may be convenient, it can have many privacy and security risks that could leave someone vulnerable to digital snoops. If connecting to public Wi-Fi, be sure to use a VPN.

2. Get educated about the terms of service and other policies

It is important to understand what the terms of service and other policies say because, once you check the box, you may have agreed to have your information stored and sold, automatic renewals, location-based monitoring and more.

3. Make sure anti-virus software is running on all devices

It is very important to have anti-virus software running on every device because it is designed to prevent, detect and remove software viruses and other malicious software. It will protect your devices from potential attacks.

4. Set up all online accounts (email, financial, shopping, etc.) with two-factor or multi-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication (2FA) or multi-factor authentication (MFA) adds an extra layer of protection to your accounts; it requires at least two separate verification steps to log into an account. Relying on a minimum of two methods of login credentials before accessing accounts will make it harder for a hacker to gain access.

5. Use secure payment methods when shopping online

One easy cyber-hygiene step is to only shop on trusted websites and use trusted payment methods. Consumers should not use payment portals or shop on websites with which they are not familiar.

Always use a payment instrument that has a dispute resolution process – like a credit card or PayPal – if you have to shop on an unfamiliar site.

6. Use unique passphrases for passwords and do not reuse passwords

The best practice these days is to use a nine to ten-character passphrase instead of an eight-character password. A passphrase is easier to remember and harder for hackers to crack.

Also, users should employ unique passphrases; if they use the same one, hackers can gain access to multiple accounts through tactics like credential stuffing.

7. Never open a link from an unknown source

Do not click on links or download attachments via email or text – unless you are expecting something from someone or a business you know. If it is spam, it could insert malware on your device.

Also, never enter personally identifiable information (PII) or payment information on websites and web forms that are not secure or have not been fully vetted. It could be a portal to steal personal information.

8. Make sure devices are password protected

If devices are not password protected, it is just that much easier for a hacker to share or steal personal information. Without a layer of protection or authentication to access the device, all the information saved on it becomes fair game. Use a PIN code, biometric or pattern recognition to lock your devices and set the same protection for apps that have access to sensitive information like banking or credit cards.

9. Log out of accounts when done

This is another bad habit that makes it much easier for someone to share or steal your information. Always log out of accounts when done so no one can get easy access to them.

While there is nothing that can be done to eliminate identity theft, account takeovers and other malicious intent, these cyber-hygiene tips will help keep consumers safe, as well as reduce the number of cybercrime victims.

For anyone who believes they have been a victim of identity theft or has questions about cyber-hygiene tips, they can call the ITRC toll-free at 888.400.5530 to speak with an expert advisor. They can also live-chat through the website or the free ID Theft Help app.


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