Email scams vs Phishing - is there a difference?

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Being the victim of any crime is hurtful, costly, and embarrassing. Some scams are easy to identify.  Others are so well disguised that it's hard to know that you’re being taken advantage of. Scams come from all areas of life. Business scams, tax scams, and even identity theft are all acts of using fraud to take advantage of you. The underlying reason seems to always be money.

There is no shortage of email scams, or even text scams now that more people are using cellphones nowadays. And it's safe to say every one of them is a phishing scheme.

Phishing schemes are designed to trick you into providing personal information that the cybercriminal then uses to tap into your financial accounts, steal your identity, download malware, or simply create havoc. These schemes look and sound like legitimate requests from legitimate sources, so it can be hard to recognize them as dangerous.

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With email phishing, messages can look like they are from a reputable source, asking you to update your password, a boss or colleague asking for you to help them out by sending them money, or from a retailer with a great deal on an item you want. Some cybercriminals have gotten creative, and send intimidating messages that sound like they are from a tax collection agency, like the IRS, giving you a deadline to log in and pay your debt or suffer penalties like jail time or astronomical fines.

Email is an effective way for phishing schemes to be used, but it isn’t the only place to find them. Now schemers use text messages, known as SMS phishing, to trick you into clicking through to a website or form to capture information. It’s harder to figure out if a text is legitimate compared to email messages, so many people tend to be scammed this way.

Phishing schemes can also be placed on social media sites. They look like incredible deals and offers for cool new gadgets or for services in your area. Clicking the ad might even take you to a really professional-looking website. But once your contact information is given out, your identity is compromised.

A graphical representation of fraud

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 Protecting yourself against cybercriminals 

One of the best ways to avoid falling victim to an email or phishing scam is to not click on any links, or respond to messages from someone you don’t know. Check out the email address of the sender to make sure it is legitimate. Doesn't hurt to double-check because expert scammers will create email addresses that look very similar to real ones.

If you read about a new product you want to try, instead of clicking the social media link, do a search on a reputable online retailer, like Amazon, Newegg, or Walmart. If it is a good product it most likely will be sold through legitimate sources.

Likewise, if you read about a sale or a new subscription opportunity from a company, visit the company’s website first before committing to buy. The same offer will most likely be listed there, too, so you can still take advantage of it.

Lots of devices with varying savings attributed

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Because phishing and email schemes are considered malware, most antivirus software includes anti-phishing tools or advanced email security. For programs like Bitdefender, you can enable these tools within your email program whether it’s a Google or Outlook account. This will help block scam messages from even landing in your inbox.

The same holds true for text message scams. Anti-phishing tools in Android antivirus apps cut down on the schemes coming through SMS. And just like desktop programs, mobile antivirus will block malware and site with threats on them, so your device doesn’t become infected with malware, nor are you tricked into giving out sensitive information to an unknown solicitor.

For ads, the best antivirus software will block you from reaching a malicious page if you do click on a bad link. Plus, with antivirus software, any malicious file attached to a bad link will be blocked so your computer isn’t infected with a bot, worm, or ransomware.

Nikki Johnston
Commissioned Editor

Nikki is a commissioned editor for Future Plc covering internet security including antivirus and VPN. With over 18 years of research and writing experience, and 11 years of testing and reviewing internet security solutions, Nikki knows how to dive deep to get the information consumers need to make better buying decisions. She is also a mom to 10 children, and personally uses many of the products she reviews to ensure the safety of her own family.