Watch out for scams, phishing emails asking for money, personal information

Everyone’s gotten those emails. Some are more believable than others.

But the one that hit the inboxes of some state missionaries recently was a particularly good one, they say.

The email — which claimed to be from Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM) — asked the recipient to email him back because he had a favor he needed to ask from them. It closed with “Blessings,” something that could be a believable way for Lance to end an email.

But if you responded to it, you got an email asking you to send him iTunes gift cards as a Christmas present.

The email was a scam for sure, said Keith Hinson, SBOM associate for public relations and Christian ethics. It was the first one he knows of that’s gone out en masse in Lance’s name.

But Alabamians receive these kinds of emails all the time, some of which do a pretty good job of masquerading as legitimate banks, friends, family members or respected organizations.

And many of them are not immediately deleted. According to a report by Verizon, 30 percent of “phishing” emails — fraudulent emails looking for passwords or personal information — are opened by their recipient.

Here are some ways that you can spot them and protect your personal information.

1. Look for out-of-character content or bad grammar.

In the email that claimed to be from Lance, the “Blessings” closing made it look more legitimate, but other things might have given it away — like poor spelling, lack of proper punctuation or bad grammar.

In addition to that, think through the information before responding in any way. Have you actually ordered anything from the company that’s saying you have a delivery confirmation? If it’s a bank or credit card company, are they asking you for information that they already have on file? Banks and credit card companies will never ask you for account information via email. Neither will the IRS — they’ll send you a letter in the mail.

2. Check the email address or web links.

In the fraudulent Lance email, the sender said “Rick Lance,” but if you looked more closely at the actual email address, it wasn’t from an alsbom.org email account. Make sure that not just the name but also the email address itself match the person or business that claims to be the sender.

Sometimes it’s obviously not the person, but other times the scammer will be a little more creative and try to put the company’s name somewhere in the email address. If you’re unsure, Google the real website of the company and compare it to the email address purporting to be from the company.

And even better, don’t follow any links from the email. If you get an email from someone saying they’re Amazon and there’s a problem with your payment method — and you actually did order something from Amazon — just go straight to your Amazon account from your web browser and address it on their website rather than from an email.

3. Don’t react to threats.

Many phishing emails will say things like “Your account will be closed,” or “Urgent action required!” Don’t listen to them. Remember — for banks, government agencies and many others, mail is the way they handle this sort of important information.

4. Don’t buy in to get-rich-quick schemes.

This one still gets people — the promise that they’ve won some sort of sweepstakes. Don’t listen to that either. Any sweepstakes that you’ve “won” that you haven’t entered isn’t real. And much like banking information, any sort of real sweepstakes that you’ve entered — if you won — would not notify you by email, and they wouldn’t require your personal information or a payment to deliver your winnings.

Phishing emails and scams can come in all forms and descriptions, but remember — if it doesn’t feel quite right, it probably isn’t. Check it out directly through your bank or other organization, and don’t click on any links. Just hit delete and wait for your bank to send you an old-fashioned letter.

If it claims to be someone — like Lance — who wouldn’t normally ask you for a Christmas gift or a monetary loan because they’re in trouble, it almost certainly isn’t the person. And if it’s an offer that seems too good to be true — it most likely is. (TAB)

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