Within the past few years, phishing emails have become increasingly difficult to detect. However, recognizing similar characteristics in phishing scams helps avoid becoming the victim. If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the questions below, you may be looking at a potential phishing scam. And if you’re looking at this and realize you have fallen victim to a phishing scam that has to lead to your sensitive information falling into the wrong hands, there are steps you need to take immediately like contacting your Social Security office in the District of Columbia, or the office closest to you, to ensure that your social security number, for example, is not used for any fraudulent activity.

1. Does the message ask for personal information?
Reputable businesses never ask for personal information – such as social security and credit card numbers – via email.

2. Does the offer seem too good to be real?
If the offer seems too good to be true, it most likely is not real. Beware of emails offering big rewards – vacations, cash prizes, etc. – for little effort.

3. Does the salutation look odd?
Reputable companies will use your name in the salutation – as opposed to “valued customer” or “to whom it may concern.” However, still, be aware that emails that use your name may not be credible.

4. Does the email have mismatched URLs?
If you receive an email from an organization that includes an HTML link in it, hover the mouse over the link without clicking to see the full URL. If the URL does not include the organization’s exact name, or if it looks suspicious, do not follow the link. Only visit websites that begin with ‘HTTPS’ because the ‘s’ at the end indicates advanced security measures. Websites that begin with “HTTP” are not as secure.

5. Does it give you a suspicious feeling?
Trust your instincts when choosing whether or not to open an email. If you question an email’s legitimacy and your instinct tells you not to open it, then trust that feeling.