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Identifying Phishing Emails: The Role of Social Engineering

Learn more about social engineering in phishing attacks.
Man receiving email on cellphone

Social engineering is used in phishing attacks, which are highly prevalent and surprisingly successful.

Phishing attacks can target anyone with an email address. These attacks use amygdala hijacking by evoking an emotional response in the user and urging them to act quickly. You already learned about how the use of fear and authority can make people respond to phishing scams that claim to be from the FBI, which was a common attack a few years ago.

Phishing attacks can also use greed to get your attention. These emails could say that you have won a large sum of money or that you have inherited it from a relative you don’t even know you had. The email will include contact information or a link. If you make contact, they will tell you that they need your information to transfer the funds — your bank account details, your social security number, or anything they are mining. In this way, they can get your data, your money, or both.

Sometimes these emails may appear legitimate, but you should always check that it is addressed to you correctly, that it was not sent to a mailing list, and that the email address is linked to the subject of the email. For example, if I use my Gmail for Netflix but I get an email claiming to be from Netflix on my business email, I know it is not legitimate.

When you get a suspicious email, you should stop and think it through. Does the email look legitimate? If you research the company, does it exist? Did the competition happen, and did you enter it? Why would you inherit from this random person, especially if you have other living relatives? You should not respond to the email, call any numbers listed, or click on any links. And if you do engage with anyone, do not give them any of your information.

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