Hook, line, and sinker

He said it was a message purportedly from Microsoft which he would regularly ignore, especially since he only owned an Apple iPhone and an iPad, except this particular email's messaging was different. Was it a phishing attempt or a legitimate email?

Wikipedia, second to "googling" which I do without thinking when traversing the information superhighway, says "Phishing is a form of social engineering and scam where attackers deceive people into revealing sensitive information or installing malware such as ransomware."

When I arrived at the location where the Bat-Signal originated, John explained to me that he clicked on the call-to-action link in the message because it referred to his free email address from Microsoft as being at risk for cancellation. He continued to explain that it was different from the other phishing email about his nonexistent "Windows computer being infected" that crowded his inbox daily.

This message struck a sense of urgency and introduced embarrassment/fear that losing his only communication vehicle of the digital world will trigger. Side note: Microsoft is your free email address provider if your email address ends with @outlook.com, @hotmail.com, @live.com or @msn.com.

Could he have easily ascertained that this latest email really came from Microsoft? Yes! After opening the email, he could've clicked/tapped on the name displayed as the sender of the message, revealing the exact email address it came from.

For example, messages from the company Microsoft will be sent from an email address ending in @microsoft.com. If he had done that, he would've discovered that the message came from an email address ending in @msn.com and not an address ending in @microsoft.com.

This phishing attempt is a little different from the scamming of Margaret I wrote about last April. When John chomped on the bait, he unknowingly became a tool for the phisherman to launch a phishing campaign turning all of John's contacts stored in his email address book in the cloud to potential victims.

Years ago, it was sufficient to change the password for your compromised email account. These days, on top of changing your password and notifying your contacts of the compromise so they don't answer the phishing email, I recommend doing these additional tasks when reeling from a phishing incident:

  1. By using your browser to access your email account, check for any new rules under the category of "Rules" in email "Settings" and delete any rules you didn't create;

  2. After changing the password, log out of all devices currently logged into your email account which will force you to log in with your new password.

Inspection of the new rule created by John's nefarious invader showed that new messages were copied to another email account created by the nefarious. If John's email address was JohnSmith@hotmail.com, the nefarious created a new email address JohnSmith1@hotmail.com so the nefarious can continue to communicate with the potential victim without alerting John.

A simple act of checking the sender's email address can avert potential phishing attempts!

Another bit of advice to keep in mind: If a friend emails you to do a favor by sending a gift card to his/her relative, contact your friend using means other than email (like by phone) because there is good chance it is a scam that your friend is not even aware of. Scamming by asking you to send gift cards is one of the most prevalent scams as it is untraceable once a gift card is redeemed.

Tak Sato

Strategist and technologist with over 30 years of experience in the private sector. Holds Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Science and Executive MBA from Cleveland State University.

As Founder of the Center for Aging in the Digital World, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit empowering seniors with digital literacy, Tak connects the dots to help people utilize appropriate technology in their personal and professional lives while using digital literacy as a tool for seniors to avoid loneliness and social isolation. Please visit EmpowerSeniors.Org for more information!

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Volume 15, Issue 15, Posted 9:38 AM, 08.15.2023