Phishing – Advice for Parents
In order to help ensure that children have a safe, and positive, experience online, it is important that parents are also aware of privacy and security online and develop the skills to recognise the pitfalls to avoid. Increasingly, one of the most common challenges encountered online are phishing messages or emails.
What is phishing?
Phishing is when fraudsters try to gain access to your confidential information such as bank details, credit card information, or passwords. If you have ever received an email with an urgent message containing a link asking you to sign into one of your accounts, reset a password, or telling you that you have won a prize in a random competition then you have been a target of phishing. It often capitalises on a sense of urgency that might cause people to take actions they might not otherwise take. For example, during the Covid19 emergency there was an increase in phishing attacks to try and trick users into revealing personal details by posing as organisations such as the World Health Organisation, in an attempt to donate money or download software.
In the past it was easier to spot a phishing email or message because it was badly written or contained information that was unconnected to your life, but phishing messages have evolved to appear far more legitimate – making it difficult to distinguish between what is malicious communication and what is genuine.
Phishing emails are often disguised to look like they come from an organisation or person that you know, such as a bank (fake requests to update information) or service provider (fake requests to change passwords).
Messages usually include a link or an attachment. By clicking on these links you may be taken to a fake form or website, where you are asked to provide or to confirm your personal details. The sender may use different reasons for why this information is needed, for example asking you to reset a password, because an account is expiring, or to claim money. Opening attachments or links can also download malicious software or viruses, causing harm to your computer and potentially allowing your data to be stolen.
Spear-phishing is an even more sophisticated form of phishing, targeting an individual rather than being sent to masses of people at once.
Using the personal information available about you online it can make an email or message appear to be legitimate, and personal to you. It doesn’t look like normal spam, it may even look like it is an email from some you know, or an organisation that you are familiar with.
It’s important to consider what personal information is shared online – for example, social media accounts may have a lot of information about your hobbies and interests, holiday destinations, or events you have been to which can be used to make a spear-phishing attempt seem realistic
With phishing emails, the messages and websites used often appear to be from trustworthy sources, meaning that being able to spot fakes is an important skill for parents and their children to have.
How to protect against phishing
Here are some key steps to protect against phishing attempts.
- Do not click on links or open attachments in emails or messages from people or organisations that you don’t know.
- Remember that a reputable organisation would never send you a link and ask you to submit personal or financial details.
- Look out for spelling or grammatical errors.
- Check the sender’s email address. Is this address the same as you would usually see from this person or organisation?
- Ask yourself ‘am I expecting this message’ and be cautious about an unexpected or unusual communication. Has the message been addressed directly to you, or does it have a generic introduction? This can indicate that it has gone to lots of people, not just you.
- Be extra cautious if a message seems to be too good to be true or is urging you to take immediate action.
- Use common sense when replying to emails. If there is anything suspicious about an email, contact the relevant business or organisation using the contact details from it’s official website. If it looks like it has come from an individual you know, but it seems unusual, contact that person by different means to check that it is valid.
- Use a filter to block spam messages from reaching you.
What advice to give children
When it comes to recognising scams, keep communication open and clear with your children. Encourage them to talk to you about any suspicious messages or pop-ups they receive, and regularly discuss the steps they can take to spot content that could be a phishing scam.