What Spam, Phishing and Spyware Scams Look Like

Spam, Phishing and Spyware Defined

Companies nationwide are now storing much of their information on computer servers and databases, and because that information has great value, hackers are constantly looking for ways to steal or destroy it. In fact, according to the 2013 Norton Report, over 7 million people were victims of cyber crime last year, and it cost Canadians $3 billion—roughly $380 per victim.

A computer intrusion could cripple your company, costing you thousands or millions of dollars in lost sales and/or damages. Hackers can obtain access to personal information in many ways, including spam,phishing and spyware. Below are definitions and examples of these three types of scams.

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How To Detect Spam 

Spam is any unsolicited electronic content, often known as junk mail. It can take the form of a text message, direct mailer, phone call or email message. Spam emailing in particular is quite common, and spam emails often contain some form of scam, virus and/or invasive or inappropriate content.

Prevent your company from falling victim to scams and viruses in spam messages by teaching employees to ask the following questions while using company email:

  • Do you know the sender? All senders are required to identify themselves when sending a commercial electronic message. If employees don’t recognize the sender’s name, they should not open the email.
  • Is the grammar and spelling poor? Sometimes spammers intentionally misspell words or use words incorrectly to sneak emails past your company’s spam filter. Encourage employees to be on the lookout for this trick.
  • Have you received something from this sender before, but now the email looks drastically different? It could be a fraudster. Encourage employees to look at all emails with a discerning eye, even those coming from known senders.
  • Does it sound too good to be true? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Is it in your spam folder? Make sure employees know the danger of opening messages that go straight to their spam folder. Many people consider spam to be annoying but harmless.

    However, the majority of computer viruses are “caught” via email. Employees should never open messages that their system has designated as spam.

Additionally, company policies regarding computer use are an effective way to reduce the impact that spam has on your system. Minimally, your policy should require employees to:

  • Turn off computers before leaving the office each day. Spam and viruses can strike a computer at any time when it is sitting idle and still connected to the Internet.
  • Keep work email communications separate from personal communications. Employees should use a personal email that is not connected to the company email for personal communications.
  • Limit the amount of time employees can spend on social media sites (for example, only allow them to use the sites during breaks), or prohibit their access entirely during the workday.

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What is Phishing?

A phishing scam is a phony email or pop-up message used to lure unsuspecting Internet users into divulging personal information, such as credit card numbers and account passwords that will later be used by hackers for identity theft. A phisher’s email can be very persuasive and believable if he or she is impersonating a well-known organization or individual.

Keep employees safe from phishing scams by teaching them to:

  • Be extremely wary of urgent email requests for any personal or financial information (their information or a client’s).
  • Call the company or individual in question with the number listed on the corporate website or in the phone book. Avoid using phone numbers within the email, as they could be phony too.
  • Do not use the links included in the email unless you are certain that the email is legitimate.
  • Do not divulge personal or financial information via the Internet unless the site is secure (sites that start with “https”).
  • Never disable anti-virus software.

How Do I Get Spyware On My Computer?

Spyware is software that can be installed on a computer without the user’s permission, usually as a result of the user opening an attachment and/or downloading an infected file from an untrusted source. Spyware can be used by hackers to “spy” on Internet users, track browsing habits and collect personal information such as credit card numbers.

Signs that spyware may be installed on a computer:

  • The computer suddenly starts to run slower.
  • Pop-ups appear when the user is offline.
  • Internet browser settings are modified. New shortcuts, icons or tool bars may appear.

As most spyware is installed when users download free files from the Internet, it’s important to ensure that your employee Internet usage policy has a clause banning employees from opening or downloading personal files on work machines.

Many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will offer security software to businesses at no charge, so be sure to ask. It is important to be vigilant and cautious about the content your employees open while using the Internet. Risky employee Internet use can have serious consequences for your company. 


We’re Here to Help

Spam, Phishing and Spyware can be very costly and even has the ability to shut a business down. Contact Peake & McInnis Ltd today for resources to help support your cyber security efforts. We have the know-how to ensure you have the right cyber liability coverage in place to protect your business.


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