Maria, like many of us, finds herself inundated with calls from sources she doesn’t recognize both on her landline and her cell phone. She gets emails that appear to be from Visa, Mastercard, Amazon and other credit card companies. Last week there was an email saying it was from Yahoo, her email service. How can Maria (and all of us) determine whether any of these calls or emails are legitimate?

Phishing.org (website: www.phishing.org), a group which helps to educate the public on this nefarious activity gives this definition of “phishing” as a “cybercrime in which a target or targets are contacted by email, telephone or text message by someone posing as a legitimate institution to lure individuals into providing sensitive data such as personally identifiable information, banking and credit card details and passwords.”

Phishing.org lists five key characteristics that may identify a phishing attempt: (1) the offer is too good to be true, such as a notice of winning a prize or gift, like an I-phone or a lavish cruise; (2) the message conveys a sense of urgency, such as an offer for a limited time or, your account has been suspended unless you update personal details immediately; (3) the email contains hyperlinks, which may not be all they appear to be, either completely different or with a word of the legitimate site misspelled; (4) the email contains an unexpected attachment that often contain ransomware or other viruses; and (5) email or call is from someone you don’t know or from someone you do know, but something is out of the ordinary or suspicious.

Protect against phishing by realizing if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Know that legitimate organizations and businesses will give ample time to accept an offer or to provide information that is needed to continue service. Furthermore, they will never as for personal information to be given over the internet. Before clicking on any email or responding to any phone call that is in doubt, go to the source the contact claims to be first and verify. 

Avoid illegitimate hyperlinks by hovering over them rather than clicking on them. The real source should be revealed. They link is often a popular link with a misspelling. Never open an attachment you don’t expect. Phishing.org says the only file that is always safe is a .txt file. Don’t answer a call from a number or name you don’t recognize. If the call is from someone legitimate, they will leave a voicemail or text.  

Go to w.w.w.phishing.org and review additional tips for protection, such as use of spam filters, utilizing browser settings, and changing passwords often.

Note: In accordance with HB 883, effective September 1, 2019, the Texas Business & Commerce Code Section 325.006, is amended to allow a court to increase up to three times the damages a defendant must pay for having phished an elderly person.

Sandra W. Reed is an attorney with Katten & Benson, an Elder Law firm in Fort Worth. She lives in beautiful Somervell County, near Chalk Mountain.