Gone Phishing! How to Avoid Online Scams

By Greg Ritchie

Messenger Reporter

EAST TEXAS –   There are a number of terms that our parents or even elder siblings never heard or had to learn: Hackers. Spam (not the kind that comes in a can.) Bloggers. Tiktokkers. 

You can add “phishing” to that list. 

Many people have been victims of phishing without really knowing the term or what it means.


Phishing is when people try to trick you into giving them your personal information. Hacking is when they try to steal it; phishing is when you gladly give it to them. 

Over the past few years, phishers have improved their talents and methods of attack. 

They can come as a link in an email or even as a text. They buy ads online that look almost like the bank you use or the tech support you need to fix your computer. 

A relative of mine was having a problem with his computer and searched online for the company manufacturer. He called the first number on the search engine. They told him he had a virus but they would be happy to fix it for him! Such good service!

They checked and – wouldn’t you know it – his computer wasn’t covered under the original warranty. One credit card and $199 later the computer was still broken and he had to call the bank to see if he could reverse the charge. The fake company had bought the first spot on the search engine and ran a website only a letter or two different than the site he was looking for. A mistake anyone would, could – and does make. 

These attacks are not only ruthless, but relentless. Does anyone even bother to count the spam calls, texts or emails anymore? The only way to protect yourself is to slow down and think before you click. 

A loved one or co-worker could have been hacked and send you a strange email. Your favorite store tells you there is a problem with a shipment. “A shipment?” you think. “I didn’t order anything!” When they ask for your information – they can now log on to your account. 

Most banks will never ask for your PIN or any other sensitive information over the phone. If they do, hang up and call the bank back yourself. Ask them if there is really an issue with your account. 

Read the email or text message carefully. Is it normal English? Is everything spelled correctly? The big bank might make a spelling error, yes. The foreign phishermen most certainly will. 

Other red flags to look out for:

  • Is someone requesting you to give confidential or personal information? Credit card number, social security number, account number or PIN?
  • Is the message from someone you don’t or shouldn’t know? How many young people in China have your phone number? Does Nigeria even have princes?
  • Does the message seem too urgent or alarming? “If you do not call us back within the hour your account will be closed.” Does that sound like something a reputable company would say to you?
  • Does the message seem a little pushy? In order to intimidate you, these people will often be almost threatening. They want you scared so you don’t think it through. Would the big online store call you and speak to you like that?

In the end, this is now a reality we must all deal with. Just like our parents warned us about talking to strangers or walking down that dark alley. Most of our communication and a lot of our business we now do on a little box we carry around everywhere. 

We must learn to watch for these scams and not immediately open every link we receive. Younger people are very susceptible. “But they said I could win a free cell phone!”

The elderly are also often victims, too. “I won a cruise, all I had to pay was a few hundred dollars for the paperwork!”

If you have been a victim of these attacks, don’t feel bad. There are almost three million phishing sites active at any given time. 

Surf safely. 

Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]

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