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Spotting the Signs: Protecting Yourself from Spoofing

June 5, 2024 | Modified: June 11, 2024

The sophistication of cyber threats has reached new heights. Among the most deceptive threats is spoofing, where scammers disguise themselves as trustworthy entities to deceive victims. Spoofing can occur through various channels, with phone and email being the most common. Understanding the basics of phone and email spoofing is not just crucial, but a necessity for anyone who wants to protect their personal information and financial assets in today’s digital world.

Phone Number & Email Spoofing

Phone spoofing involves a scammer making a call that appears to come from a legitimate source, such as your credit union or bank. The caller ID is manipulated to display a trusted number, tricking you into believing the call is authentic. On the other hand, email spoofing involves sending fake emails from a known and trusted sender. These emails often include links to sinister websites or risky attachments that can compromise your security.

Common Signs of Spoofed Communications

Recognizing spoofed communications can be challenging, especially as scammers become more sophisticated. However, by being aware of several telltale signs, you can empower yourself to spot spoofed phone calls and emails:

Phone Spoofing Signs

  1. Urgent Requests: Scammers frequently create a sense of urgency, insisting that immediate action is required to avoid serious consequences.
  2. Unusual Requests for Information: Legitimate institutions, such as Benchmark FCU, will never ask for sensitive information, including your social security or account number, account password, or PIN, over the phone.
  3. Caller ID Mismatch: If you receive a call from your credit union or credit card company but the caller ID shows an unusual number, be cautious.
  4. Generic Greetings: Be wary of callers who do not use your name or any specific details about your account. 

Email Spoofing Signs

  1. Suspicious Email Addresses: Check the sender’s email address carefully. Spoofed emails often come from addresses resembling, but not exactly the same as, legitimate ones.
  2. Spelling and Grammar Errors: Professional organizations typically have high standards for their communications. Poor spelling and grammar can be a warning sign.
  3. Unexpected Attachments or Links: Be cautious of unsolicited emails containing attachments or links, especially if the email urges you to click them.
  4. Unusual Content: Emails that contain offers that seem too good to be true, as well as unexpected invoices or alerts about account issues, may be scams. 

How Spoofing Has Evolved Over Time

Spoofing tactics have evolved significantly over the years. Initially, scammers relied on basic methods, such as simple email forgeries and basic caller ID manipulation. However, with advancements in technology, their methods have become more sophisticated. Today, scammers use advanced software to create compelling fake emails and caller IDs. They employ social engineering tactics, learning personal details from social media and other online sources to make their scams more believable. Additionally, the rise of VoIP technology has made it easier and cheaper for scammers to spoof phone numbers on a large scale. This evolution has made spoofing a more pervasive and dangerous threat. It’s crucial for you to stay informed and proactive to protect yourself and your financial assets.  

Step-by-Step Guide to Verifying the Legitimacy of Calls and Emails from a Financial Institution

Verifying Phone Calls

  1. Hang Up and Call Back: If you receive a suspicious call, hang up and call the official phone number of your credit union or financial services company. This ensures you are speaking with a legitimate representative. Checking the official website of Benchmark FCU or another financial services company will help you locate legitimate contact information.
  2. Ask for Verification: Ask the caller for details only an authentic representative would know. Be wary if they avoid or cannot answer specific questions about your account.
  3. Use Secure Channels: Communicate with your financial institution through secure channels such as their official phone number, app, or website. 

Verifying Emails

  1. Examine the Sender’s Email Address: Ensure the email address matches precisely with previous legitimate emails from your financial institution. Again, be extremely cautious when checking, as the email may be very similar and only off by a letter or symbol.
  2. Hover Over Links: Prior to clicking a link, hover over it to see the URL. Ensure it directs to a legitimate site.
  3. Contact Your Institution Directly: Do not reply directly if an email seems suspicious. Instead, contact your financial institution through their official website or phone number, as mentioned above, to confirm the email’s legitimacy. 

Tools and Technologies Available to Customers for Detecting Spoofed Communications

Several tools and technologies can help you detect spoofed communications:

  1. Caller ID Authentication: Services such as Verizon’s STIR/SHAKEN help authenticate the caller ID information, making it harder for scammers to spoof numbers.
  2. Spam Filters and Security Software: Use robust spam filters and update your security software consistently to protect against spoofed emails and phishing attacks.
  3. Financial Apps: Utilize your financial institution’s official mobile app for secure communications and alerts. 

Real-World Examples of Spoofing Scams and How Vigilant Customers Avoided Falling Victim

Example 1: The Fake Credit Union Call

Jane received a call from someone claiming to be from her credit union’s fraud department, informing her of suspicious activity on her account. The caller asked for her account number and PIN to verify her identity. Even though the caller ID showed the call was coming from her credit union, Jane was suspicious because she remembered her credit union stating they would never contact her and ask for her personal information. She decided to hang up and call her credit union directly using the number on her card. A credit union representative confirmed no suspicious activity on her account/card, and Jane avoided becoming a victim of spoofing.  This is a prime example of the fraudster spoofing the credit union’s phone number to make the call seem legit because the caller ID appears with the credit union name.

Example 2: The Phishing Email

Greg received an email that appeared to be from his credit card company, warning him of an unauthorized charge and providing a link to log in and verify his account. Greg noticed that the email address was slightly different from the official one. Instead of clicking the link, he logged into his account through the official website and found no issues. Greg reported the spoofed email to his credit card company, preventing potential fraud.

Resources and Support Offered by Financial Institutions to Help Customers Combat Spoofing

Financial institutions play an essential role in the fight against spoofing, providing various resources and support to help customers protect themselves. These include fraud alerts and education, secure communication channels, and dedicated customer support teams. Knowing that your credit union is actively working to combat spoofing can provide you with an added sense of security.

  1. Fraud Alerts and Education: Many credit unions offer alerts and educational resources to inform customers about common scams and how to avoid them. Benchmark FCU’s Identity Theft Procedures document includes a wealth of helpful information.
  2. Secure Communication Channels: Credit Unions encourage customers to interact with them using secure communication channels, such as official apps and websites.
  3. Customer Support: Financial institutions often have dedicated fraud prevention teams that customers can contact if they suspect spoofers are targeting them. Contact your local Benchmark FCU office to learn more. 
  4. Two-Factor Authentication: Enabling two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security, making it more difficult for scammers to access your accounts. 

Stay Alert for Spoofing 

Spoofing is a growing threat that requires vigilance and proactive measures. By recognizing the signs of spoofed communications, verifying the legitimacy of phone calls and emails, using available tools and technologies, and leveraging the support offered by financial institutions, customers can effectively protect themselves from these deceptive tactics. Stay informed, stay alert, and stay safe. 

Learn how to protect yourself from cyber-attacks by reading our “Cybersecurity Checklist.” 

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