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“Phishing” is an IT term for a cybercrime in which people try to fool other people into sending them money or revealing personal information online. The name comes from the idea of fishing: Scammers send a message that acts as bait, hoping to “hook” someone. 

The good news is that you have the power to throw these phish back! Let’s take a minute to talk about what you can do to avoid phishing.  

First, be cautious. Remember the old warning about not talking to strangers? It goes double on the internet, since anyone can pretend to be anyone else and an email from an exciting new friend could actually be a trick. 

Second, remember not to share sensitive information through emails. No legitimate organization would ask for personal details, such as your passwords, credit card numbers, and Social Security Number in an email. 

Anatomy of a phish: Common red flags

Some key indicators of a phishing scheme or scam include:

Time stamp

  • It's outside of work hours or late at night

Other recipients

  • You are among a group of people you don't know

Sender

  • The sender isn't someone you know
  • The sender is outside of your organization
  • The sender's email address impersonates someone you know
  • The email address contains a suspicious domain or spelling errors

Greeting

  • It's generic, unusual, or missing

Subject

  • It's a reply to an email you did not send
  • It does not match the message's content
  • It contains spelling, punctuation, or grammar errors

The message

  • It's unexpected
  • It creates a sense of urgency (e.g., "Respond ASAP!")
  • It asks you to do something in order to avoid a negative consequence or to gain something of value
  • It requests personal information
  • It asks you to update or verify an account
  • It contains repeated spelling, punctuation, or grammar errors
  • It gives you an uncomfortable gut feeling

A phishing scheme. Can you spot all the red flags?

The email above is a phishing scheme. Can you spot all the red flags? Select the image to view a larger version.

Attachment(s)

  • You weren't expecting an attachment
  • It's a potentially dangerous file type

Hyperlink(s)

  • It includes misspellings
  • It's displayed with no additional information
  • It's been shortened
  • It indicates a different website when you hover over the text

Signature

  • It's generic, unusual, or missing

Phishing tactics

Below are some common tactics that criminals use when phishing University of Utah students, faculty, and staff, and University of Utah Health personnel. These examples are intended to help every U of U user learn how to spot a phish. Use the links to access an overview and example of each tactic (login required). For a list of recent phishing attempts, please visit the Phishing page (login required).

RECENT PHISHING ATTEMPTS

Report a phish

If you receive a phishing attempt through a university email account, the Information Security Office (ISO) asks that you immediately report it using the Phish Alert Button.

  • Open or select the suspicious message, then select the Phish Alert Button to send it to the ISO for review.
  • If your email client does not have the Phish Alert Button, forward the email as an attachment to phish@utah.edu.
  • For more info on how to report suspicious emails, please visit this IT Knowledge Base article.

After reviewing the suspicious email, the ISO will notify you whether it is a phishing attack. If the message is malicious, the ISO will remove it from your inbox and act as needed to protect users and the university.

If, by accident, you open a questionable link and enter login credentials, immediately go to CIS — https://cis.utah.edu/ — and change your password. In addition, contact the ISO's Security Operations Center at soc@utah.edu to notify information security staff.

If you need additional assistance, please contact your central IT help desk:

  • Main Campus UIT Help Desk: 801-581-4000, option 1
  • University of Utah Health ITS Service Desk: 801-587-6000

Report a scam

To make a police report regarding a scam, call the University of Utah Police at 801-585-2677 and ask to speak with an officer. This request will create a call log, which will show the date, time, and nature of your complaint. After speaking with an officer, you will receive instructions on next steps.

Social engineering

Social engineering is the practice of trying to trick or manipulate people into breaking normal security procedures. In general, the principle behind social engineering, phishing, and scams is that people are the weak link in security — it can be easier to trick people than to hack into computing systems by force.

Social engineers exploit people’s natural tendencies to trust and help others. They also take advantage of our tendency to act quickly when faced with a crisis. Phishing is a form of social engineering.

Other types of phishing

Phishing can extend beyond scams sent via email. Criminals also use phishing tactics and social engineering in text messages (smishing) and phone calls (vishing).

Vishing (voice phishing)

In voice phishing, the phisher calls someone and asks them to provide sensitive personal details or dial a number, according to KnowBe4. The purpose is to steal personal or bank account information through the phone. Vishing is mostly done with a fake caller ID.

Smishing (SMS phishing)

Smishing is phishing conducted via short message service (SMS), a telephone-based text messaging service, according to KnowBe4. A smishing text, for example, attempts to entice a victim into revealing personal information via a link that leads to a phishing website.

Resources

Last Updated: 8/5/22