King County Security Tips – The shock factor: Do not take the bait!

One of the most common and successful tricks cyber criminals use to trigger you into falling for their scams is fake “stressor events.” In this context, “stressor events” are shocking or compromising situations that inflict fear or provoke other emotions for the purpose of causing an impulsive reaction.

How it works
When the bad guys present a shocking claim to an unknowing victim, they often add a sense of urgency to drive home the “importance” of the scenario. In reality, this sense of urgency is another factor increasing the chances that you will react impulsively and click on their malicious links or download their dangerous attachments. Attackers explain their fake scenarios in the body of their phishing emails, but they are also known for using shocking subject lines such as, “Act Now: Fraudulent activity on your checking account.” Though these tactics certainly are not limited to phishing emails, scammers also use these techniques in “smishing” (SMS, or text phishing) and “vishing” (voice phishing) attempts.

How to avoid falling victim to pressure
The reason these attackers are often successful is because they are convincing the target to either avoid a negative consequence or gain something of value. Stop and think about the likelihood of the scenario before making the wrong move.

  • Never open an attachment you were not expecting. Even if it appears to be from someone you know, pick up the phone to verify it is legitimate.
  • If the sender of the email is difficult to get in touch with or unwilling to speak on the phone, it is likely a scam.
  • If the sender requests that you send or receive money in unusual ways it is probably a scam. For example, if they are requesting a payment in the form of gift cards, do not fall for it.

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