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What Happens if You Click on a Phishing Link?

Today, a majority of data breaches involve phishing, making it the most common cyberattack encountered by individuals and organizations alike.

Among the favored mediums for phishing, emails consistently outrank others. According to some estimates, 3.4 billion malicious emails are circulated each day, and this number is unlikely to dwindle anytime soon.

A simple phishing link on an email can cause irreparable damage to your safety and privacy. But you can encounter such links via SMSs, DMs, ads, and websites, too.

In this article, we examine the risks of phishing links and what you can do to protect yourself against them.

Understanding Phishing

Although phishing is not a new phenomenon, many Americans still lack adequate awareness about scams involving it. Taking a moment to understand what it is all about could be pivotal for avoiding prevalent threats.  

Phishing is the practice of misleading victims into divulging sensitive data.  

But what type of data is at stake here? Anything that could be useful for criminals to commit identity theft, financial fraud, account takeovers, doxxing, extortion, and similar crimes. 

For example, your phone number, email, home address, SSN, credit card numbers, tax ID, insurance details, and account usernames and passwords can all come under this. Even photos and videos of a sensitive nature and data or content that could compromise your safety and privacy could be at risk. 

When it comes to organizations, financial documents, bank account details, business plans, supplier and customer databases, patented designs and formulas, and a range of confidential information can become the target of a phishing attack. 

Many phishing attempts directed via written mediums rely on links for extracting information. With a single click, these could create a gateway for criminals to infiltrate your data privacy and target you for numerous crimes.

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What Happens if You Click on a Phishing Link?

Phishing emails and messages are often part of elaborate schemes designed to get you to click harmful links.

But what potential dangers could a seemingly innocent link expose you to?

Phishing Websites

In most instances, phishing links take users to fraudulent websites set up to steal valuable data. Many will resemble reputable sites to appear trustworthy and legitimate. 

For example, scammers impersonating a social media platform can use a deceptive link to direct you to a spoofed web page under the pretext of reactivating your account. 

If you enter your account credentials without suspecting foul play, criminals could extract that data and take over your profile.

Malware

Suspicious links sometimes download malicious software when you click. 

Once installed on your devices, malware could silently collect personal information of value and transmit it to cyber scammers. 

Keyloggers, for instance, can track what you type in. This allows bad actors to identify your account usernames and passwords, credit card information, and similarly confidential data without your knowledge.

Remote Device Access

Clicking certain links enables cyber criminals to remotely access your devices. 

When they gain entry, they can create havoc by, for instance, logging into online accounts using passwords you have saved on your browser, making purchases with saved credit cards, or going through files and folders stored on your device.

They can also watch your every move to extract confidential information and download damaging applications while you are away.

Recurring Cyber Threats

Whether a phishing link downloads malware or directs you to a spoofed website, one thing is for sure—after your personal information is compromised, more cyber threats will follow. 

The fact is, clicking a deceitful link can make you extra vulnerable to spam, identity scams, financial fraud, and countless other crimes.

What Should You Do if You Click a Suspicious Link?

The exact consequences of clicking a phishing link are often hard to ascertain immediately. However, by adopting the following measures, you could minimize much of the damage. 

  • Avoid Disclosing Personal Information 

If you suspect a link has taken you to a deceitful website, simply exit it without providing any identifiable details. 

  • Disconnect From the Internet 

Turn off your internet connection to prevent unauthorized data transmissions or device intrusions. 

  • Scan for Malware 

Using reliable anti-virus software, carry out a comprehensive scan of your device and its files to identify possible malware threats. 

  • Strengthen Data Security 

Taking backups of data saved in the compromised device, changing account passwords, and updating software are essential steps for minimizing risks. 

  • Alert the Relevant Organizations 

Depending on the type of information compromised, notifying the relevant parties could help you contain the damage. For instance, if you believe your payment details are at risk, inform your credit card issuer and freeze your card. 

In addition, alert the FTC and law enforcement, providing copies of communications and other relevant details. 

  • Inform Your Loved Ones 

When criminals get hold of your identity-related data, they can often use it to launch impersonation scams targeting your friends and family. By keeping those close to you informed, you can help them anticipate and sidestep such threats.

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How Can You Avoid Phishing Attempts?

Here are the essential steps for protecting yourself from phishing.

  • Watch out for red flags, such as unusual language use or excessive spelling and grammatical errors.
  • Examine email addresses to ensure they are identical to the ones previously used by the relevant person or entity.
  • Reverse search unknown phone numbers to identify who uses them before responding to messages.
  • Contact message senders using a verified phone number to confirm they have sent it.
  • Install malware protection to detect unsafe downloads, block suspicious websites, and scan emails.
  • Avoid saving passwords on your browser or device.
  • Never store confidential data on your devices, and opt for an external storage solution instead.
  • Prevent network intrusions with a virtual private network.
  • Practice cautious data sharing, both online and offline.
  • Minimize your digital data footprint by deleting accounts and published information that could compromise your safety.

Key Takeaways

A malicious link on a phishing email or message can direct you to a spoofed website, download malware, enable remote device access, and set off various cybercrimes targeting you and your loved ones.

However, if you click a suspicious link by mistake, mitigating risks is possible with proactive measures. Of course, prevention is always better than cure. So, don’t forget to practice digital safety to ward off potential cyber threats.