Improved security in modern operating systems and web browsers mean that online malware is a much-reduced threat these days.
But these improvements have a flip side: web villains now find it far simpler to simply trick personal information out of you in order to steal money.
The practice is known as ‘phishing’, since it’s essentially a case of baiting a digital hook and waiting for someone to bite.
Here’s what you can do to avoid getting caught out.
Step 1: What is a phishing email?
Phishing emails differ from ordinary spam because they ask for personal information such as login details for an online service or credit card details.
They do this by pretending to be messages from the service itself, often by claiming there’s a problem with your account and that you need to confirm your details by clicking a link.
The most sophisticated phishing emails can be very convincing, but there are almost always telltale signs that give the game away.
Step 2: Spotting a phishing email
It’s important to remember that no reputable organisation should ask for personal details via email, so that should always be a giveaway for a phishing email — assuming it gets through your email application’s spam filter in the first place, of course.
BT, for example, never sends emails to customers asking to verify account details, and they would never send an email that includes an attachment.
Spelling mistakes and poor grammar are also signs of a scam, as is the sender’s email address.
Your email application may show a convincing name for the email sender, but the sender’s actual address will almost always give the game away. It may have the words ‘undisclosed recipients’ or an unknown address in the To and From fields.
Don’t reply to any email you assume to be phishing - and if you are unsure whether an email is genuine or not, simply delete it.
If you receive a phishing email that purports to be from BT, forward it to email@example.com.
For other email security issues or if you believe your email account has been compromised email, for instance if your friends report receiving strange emails you didn't send email firstname.lastname@example.org
Step 3: Make sure your browser is up to date
If you are completely fooled by a phishing email and click its link, your web browser will almost certainly detect the fraudulent site and block it.
That’s why it’s essential to always use the most up-to-date version of a web browser — older versions may have weaker anti-phishing protection and may not spot a fake.
Check out our article: Still running Windows Vista or XP? Find out which web browsers are safest to use.
Step 4: Check the page
If you end up at a phishing site’s ‘log in’ page without any warning from your web browser, all is not yet lost.
You should always check the web address of any site that asks for login information, whether the site is genuine or not.
Fake sites will almost always lack the https:// that shows a web site’s login page is encrypted for extra security, but the address itself should also show that the site isn’t the real thing — no matter how plausible the page itself might be.
Step 5: Password protect
If you do inadvertently provide login information to a phishing site, it’s important to change your password for that service as soon as you realise your mistake — and for any other services that use the same password.
If the site is for a bank or any other service that has access to your financial details, notify them immediately and report the fake site to Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and internet crime. You can also report phishing attempts that weren’t successful.
Step 6: Spam filters and blocking
Phishing emails are best marked as ‘spam’ in your email application and, all being well, you won’t see them — or emails like them — again.
BT Mail offers spam protection, which will send many such emails directly to your spam folder.
Within your BT Mail, if you receive a suspicious email, click on it and tap on the spam icon.
You can also block emails from certain senders so you don't receive any email from them again.
For full instructions on how to use the anti-spam features on BT Mail, read BT's customer help page.
BT Web Protect
BT broadband customers can use a new security product called BT Protect that will warn you if you are visiting a hazardous website.
BT Protect is free to all broadband customers and simply needs activating. Click the link below to find out more.
BT broadband customers also get free anti-virus sotware BT Virus Protect.
Watch - find out how to keep your computer malware free: