'Is this real?' remains an ongoing concern for users
(Caption: Peter Vogel writes about the danger of phishing emails in his inbox and points out effective ways to limit your sensitive information from being exposed. Photo credit: hackingstuffs.com)
Hardly a week, or dare I say a day, goes by without a phishing email or two in my inbox. Of course after more than 25 years of using email I'm pretty much inured to most phishing emails.
Besides, many mail-handling services have become pretty good at spotting phishing and other spam email content and filtering it out before it shows up.
Google's Gmail service is very good at keeping potentially harmful emails out of the way, dropping them into a spam folder that I look at only every few months.
My school's Microsoft Exchange email filtering has improved considerably since we've begun routing it through the company's new Exchange Online Protection.
Recently a colleague inquired about an email that had passed through the filter. It was an email ostensibly from Apple expressing a need for updated customer information.
"Is this real?" was the concern expressed by my colleague in his one-line email to me, along with a screen shot of the email in question.
Naturally I was happy that the email had given him pause. For years I've been cautioning colleagues and friends to treat all email with a healthy dose of skepticism, and doubly so any email that enjoins the recipient to "click here" to update personal information, or, even more insidious, banking information.
It was a fairly mundane email, lacking any visual appeal, and looking rather matter-of-fact.
There's a bit of intimidation (a reference to an account being temporarily restricted, whatever that means), a helpful looking link (click here and all will be well), a link to an Apple helpdesk, and an official-looking case identification number.
Of course the whole email is phoney. It is the link that provides the real clue that this is not a legitimate email from Apple Corporation. Resting the cursor on the link brings up the actual link, in this case geniuscarehelp.com.
That name might look suspicious, but then doesn't Apple employ people with the label "genius" in its storefront operations? Perhaps this email really is from one of those helpful genius types.
If your browser and email interface let you preview actual link addresses before you click, make use of that feature every time you have the remotest suspicion about the validity of an email. If the link doesn't contain what you'd typically expect, for instance in this case Apple.com, don't click on it.
If you have the time you can confirm those suspicions by checking the root domain at whois.com, one of many sites where you can run a domain name check. I learned that the "geniuscarehelp.com" domain name had been registered only the very morning that my colleague received his Apple ID update request. Definitely fake.
Just what are the perpetrators of this phishing scheme hoping to achieve? Most likely they want full access to your Apple iTunes account, and by extension any credit cards tied to it. Once the phishers have that Apple ID account information, who knows what might happen.
There is also a small typo in the email. Presumably a company the likes of "Appe" would not be sending out emails with typographical errors, especially one involving its own name.
Apple has long been aware of scams such as the one you see here. In fact they request that recipients forward emails like this to a special mailbox so that action can be taken, wherever possible, against the perpetrators.