What should you do if you receive or open a scam email?
Learn what steps to take after falling for an email scam or phishing attack
Email scams, or phishing attacks, occur when hackers attempt to steal your money or identity by getting you to reveal personal information through an email that appears trustworthy.
While you may be aware of the types of scams to look out for on your browser or in your inbox, you may not know what to do if you receive or even fall for one.
Continue reading to learn what the steps to take after receiving or opening an email scam.
Scenario #1: What should you do if you suspect you received a scam email?
If you suspect you’ve received a phishing attempt, first and foremost, do NOT open the message, click on any links, or open any attachments. If you take any of these actions on a phishing attempt, you are risking your personal information and any other sensitive data on your device.
It’s important not to reply or engage with the email scam in any way. Ignore any requests from the sender and do not call or text any number they provide.
If the email seems to be coming from a reputable organization or someone you know, double check the actual email address, not just the name listed. An email may seem like it is coming from a trusted source, but upon looking further, you’ll be able to see that the hacker changed the name that appears when they send an email.
When you have determined that the email is a scam or a phishing attempt, it’s best to report it to your email provider. Microsoft Outlook and Gmail allow you to both mark and report an email as phishing or junk. Reporting scams and phishing emails allow email providers to reassess and strengthen their spam filters, so in the future, you’re less likely to receive these emails.
Scenario #2: What should you do if you open a scam email?
Email scams and phishing attempts are a serious threat, and you should take action with the following steps as soon as possible if you opened a scam email or opened any links or attachments within that email:
#1: Report the scam. If you’ve fallen victim to an email scam, the first thing that you should do is report it. There are two main organizations you should report to: the National Fraud Information Center and the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
The National Fraud Information Center reports fraudulent activity to the federal government and also maintains records of these incidents. It also provides links and resources to who you can contact in your state for help.
The Internet Crime Complaint Center is run by the FBI and the National White-Collar Crime Center. This website has tips, advice, and other information about avoiding email scams and what to do if you fall victim to one. It also has a link to file a claim against someone either who stole your identity or attempted to.
#2: Change your passwords. After you have reported the scam email, you’ll need to update your passwords. It’s important that you change the passwords to all of your accounts, including your emails, bank accounts, utilities, and more. Create unique and strong passwords that are different for every account and not just a variation of your previous password. Include lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers, and special characters in all of your new passwords.
#3: Notify your credit card companies and credit agencies. Contact your credit card company and alert them of your situation. Even if the hacker has not yet made any purchases, your credit card data has likely been exposed and unauthorized charges could be coming. It’s typically best to freeze or cancel all your cards and receive new ones that the hackers have not seen.
After you have alerted your credit card companies, contact one of the three major credit card bureaus and explain to them what happened. Let them know that your account has potentially been compromised and place a fraud alert or freeze on your account until everything has been resolved.
#4: Update your software. Update your device’s software as soon as possible and run a virus scan to determine if your device has been infected with a virus or malware. If your device has any sensitive files, it’s a good idea to encrypt those files and ensure you have a firewall enabled. Also, make sure that you are regularly backing up your important files and data on an external hard drive or to the cloud.
#5: Monitor your accounts. Finally, after you’ve completed the steps above, keep track of all of your accounts and closely monitor them daily to check for any suspicious activity. If you’ve placed a fraud alert or freeze on your account, you may want to leave it in place until you think it’s safe to remove it. Also, look out for any bills or statements from utility companies or other service providers that aren’t yours.
What are the risks of falling for an email scam?
The hackers who send scam emails or phishing attempts are looking to profit from stealing your personal information; this could include your bank, credit card account numbers, usernames and passwords, and your Social Security number (SSN). There are many risks and consequences of this that can be devastating and take a long time to recover from:
- Financial identity theft. If a hacker has gained access to your banking and credit card information, they will be able to commit credit card fraud, bank fraud, computer fraud, and wire fraud as well as withdraw money from your accounts.
- Government identity theft. Hackers can also use your personal information to file an income tax return and claim your refund if they gain access to your SSN.
- Medical identity theft. A hacker may also be able to gain access to your medical information and health insurance information if you fall for an email scam. This can damage your health care coverage, and put you in danger if someone else has access and is able to modify your medical information.
- Dark web leak. Many hackers seek to sell personal information on the dark web for a profit. If your data appears on the dark web, it could be accessible to other cyber criminals.
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