Phishing scams are a 21st century epidemic. There can’t be an email user out there who hasn’t received a message from a ‘foreign lawyer’ offering us a generous slice of an inheritance if only we’d send them our bank account details; or an email purporting to be from a finance provider asking us to confirm our details.
The proliferation of phishing scams is terrifying. More terrifying still is the fact that the latest figures from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau and the website Get Safe Online, show that phishing scams are on the rise, with more dodgy emails and SMS messages being sent than ever before.
The surge in phishing scams
The figures show that in the last year alone, phishing scams in the UK were up by 21 percent. The fraudsters posed as leading brands such as Apple, Tesco and BT to dupe more than 95,000 people into handing over their personal details. This was up from 75,490 in 2014. The scams cost victims a total of £174.4million, with people losing up to £38,000 each.
This unprecedented rise in phishing scams means that they now account for a quarter of all online crime, with unsuspecting victims able to lose their entire life savings in just a couple of minutes.
Increasingly sophisticated techniques
Further information from the government-backed Get Safe Online campaign revealed that more than a quarter of the phishing scam victims have fallen foul of the increasingly sophisticated social engineering techniques the fraudsters are now using.
The scammers are turning to social media to glean information about their victims before they make their approach. By building up a profile of the individual using personal information, they are able to create emails and text messages that appear to be from a trustworthy and convincing source.
An international problem
The increase in phishing scams is not a problem that’s unique to the UK, with figures up across much of the developed world. The Anti-Phishing Working Group recently released their global phishing survey, which shows worldwide phishing incidents are not only on the rise, but that the scammers are becoming more adept at luring users to fake sites, stealing personal information and infecting computers with malware.
A recent warning from the online loan provider Wonga South Africa gives some idea of how just widespread the phishing scams can be. And unfortunately, the powers that be can offer very little protection.
How to steer clear of scams
The message is clear: the onus for protecting ourselves from phishing scams is very much in our hands. Everyone who receives unsolicited emails, texts, phone calls or letters should ignore them. No one should ever enter into a conversation with someone they don’t know online or over the phone.
It’s essential we think twice before we act. Too many people still think they won’t be targeted, but that really couldn’t be further from the truth. Not panicking and letting commonsense prevail is the only way to stay one step ahead of criminals online.