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Phishing vs. vishing vs. smishing

Fraud is an unfortunate but prevalent issue that every organization should be aware of, especially considering how much criminals will take advantage of digital communications. Scammers use spoofing strategies across all communication channels to deceive customers into believing they are talking to a legitimate company. Bad actors have become so common that each channel has adopted its own words to describe these scams, including phishing (email), vishing (voice call), and smishing (SMS or text).

These scams are made possible by spoofing a legitimate company – damaging both your reputation and your means of connecting with your consumer base. To properly combat this and protect the customer experience, it’s important to understand phishing vs vishing vs smishing.

Phishing: The art of deceptive emails

Phishing attacks are a common type of cyber scam designed to manipulate individuals into divulging sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords, credit card details, or personal data. These attacks usually start with the cybercriminal crafting a deceptive message that appears to be from a trustworthy source, such as a well-known company, government agency, or even a friend or colleague. The primary objective is to trick the recipient into taking a specific action, often clicking on a malicious link or downloading an infected attachment.

Email phishing is typically the most prevalent form of phishing, where attackers send fraudulent emails imitating legitimate entities. There is also spear phishing, when scams are personalized to target specific individuals and organizations. These are frustratingly effective since attackers extensively research to make the message appear legitimate.

Many of these scammers also use link manipulation, a tactic that includes deceptive URLs to redirect users to fake websites that closely resemble legitimate ones. These URLs are usually embedded within email content, buttons, or images and can be challenging to distinguish from authentic links. Phishers will even create fake login pages for popular websites or services to steal users' login credentials, allowing them access to personal accounts and potentially compromising additional information.

For example, many financial scams come from attackers that pose as banks, financial institutions, or payment services asking for login credentials or other financial data. They do this under the guise of security certifications or account updates when they are really just stealing information.

Some of the red flags and warning signs that can expose phishing techniques include

  • Suspicious senders: Check the email address carefully, as phishing emails often use misspelled or slightly altered domain names.
  • Urgency or fear-inducing language: Phishers often create a sense of urgency, urging recipients to take immediate action to avoid negative consequences.
  • Generic greetings: Legitimate emails from reputable companies usually address recipients by name, while phishing emails may use generic greetings like "Dear Customer."
  • Unexpected attachments or links: Be cautious of unsolicited emails containing attachments or links, especially if they prompt you to log in or provide personal information.
  • Poor grammar and spelling: Phishing emails often contain errors, indicating a lack of professionalism.
Vishing: The art of deceptive phone calls

Phishing and vishing sound similar, though there is a distinct difference between these two scam methods. Vishing, or voice phishing, is a more specific type of phishing where attackers rely on phone calls or voice messages to manipulate and deceive victims. When it comes to phishing vs. vishing, the voice element separates the two and makes vishing a slightly more pressing issue for companies with call and contact centers. 

The attackers impersonate trusted entities, such as financial institutions, government agencies, or technical support teams, using voice communication to extract sensitive information or coax victims into performing certain actions. Vishing attacks often exploit the human inclination to trust and respond to authoritative voices, making them an effective method of social engineering.

Vishers primarily use caller ID spoofing to mask their true identity, where they display a false caller ID to make it look like the call is coming from a legitimate source—such as your business. In fact, 1 in 3 businesses have had their name used by an impersonator making scam calls. They will also coax sensitive data from consumers by offering rewards, prizes, or financial incentives. These attackers adopt friendly, professional, and reassuring tones to build trust or use urgency and fear tactics to pressure victims to act quickly instead of responding with rationale. 

Impersonated calls severely impact how consumers perceive you and can leave a negative impression during the customer experience; 34% of consumers are suspicious of any calls from that business, and 13% have since switched brands after receiving an impersonation call. It’s difficult to recover from this kind of impact—39% of consumers perceive the business negatively or have reduced trust in their security procedures after such an incident. 

For example, attackers pretend to be technical support personnel from well-known companies, claiming that the victim's computer has been compromised. They then persuade victims to download malicious software or grant remote access, allowing them to steal personal data or install malware.

To recognize these vishing attempts and protect against them, it’s best to encourage consumers to:

  • Verify the caller: Always verify the caller's identity by directly contacting the institution or company they claim to represent. Use contact information obtained from official sources, not the information provided by the caller.
  • Be cautious with sensitive information: Avoid providing sensitive information, such as passwords or financial details, over the phone unless you initiated the call and are sure of the recipient's identity.
  • Refuse to succumb to pressure: Resist responding hastily to urgent or fear-inducing calls. Take your time to assess the situation, and remember that legitimate entities will never pressure you to share sensitive information quickly.

For inbound calls to your company, It’s key for organizations to educate employees, train them to recognize vishing attempts, and establish clear protocols for handling sensitive information over the phone.

Smishing: The art of deceptive texts

Finally, we have smishing, which plays on “SMS” and “phishing.” It is a cyber attack that uses text messages to trick and scam consumers. Like email-based phishing, smishing attackers impersonate trusted sources, such as banks, delivery services, or government agencies, and send fraudulent text messages containing malicious links or requests for sensitive information. The aim is to trick recipients into clicking on these links or providing personal details, leading to unauthorized access to their accounts or installing malware on their devices.

Like its counterparts, smishing also uses fake urgent alerts like breaches in security or prizes and lottery scams to get victims to click on malicious links or provide private information. It’s common for smishers to impersonate delivery services to track or reschedule a delivery. One of the worst tricks is using two-factor authentication, where they get victims to share verification codes so the scammers have total access to sensitive accounts.

During the pandemic, for example, smishers capitalized on the urgency surrounding vaccinations, sending messages offering fake vaccine appointments or asking for personal information under the guise of vaccine registration.

To avoid getting scammed by smishing attacks, look out for these warning signs:

  • Unknown sender: Be cautious of text messages from unfamiliar or unexpected senders, especially if they claim to represent official entities.
  • Unusual URLs: Carefully examine any links in the text message. If they seem suspicious or don't match the claimed sender's website, avoid clicking on them.
  • Poor grammar and spelling: Smishing messages often contain grammatical errors, misspellings, or unusual language usage, indicating the message's lack of legitimacy.
  • Requests for sensitive information: Be skeptical of any text message asking for personal information, account details, or verification codes. Legitimate institutions usually do not request sensitive information via text.
Key differences between phishing, vishing, and smishing

Let’s highlight the differences between phishing vs vishing vs smishing, which all come with niche challenges that damage the customer experience.

  • Medium of communication: Phishing primarily uses email as a means of communication, vishing relies on phone calls, and smishing employs text messages.
  • Exploited vulnerabilities and psychological tactics: Phishing exploits the tendency to trust email senders; vishing capitalizes on the persuasive power of voice communication, while smishing relies on urgency and the popularity of text messaging to deceive victims.
  • Targeted demographics and industries: Phishing campaigns often target a broad audience, vishing is more effective against individuals less tech-savvy or vulnerable to social engineering, and smishing aims at smartphone users and those reliant on mobile communications.

These scams can all lead to compromised accounts, financial losses, identity theft, and even device infection when links are involved.

Protecting yourself and your organization

We’ve discussed some of the best ways to prevent these attacks for each of these tactics, protecting both the organization and the consumer. Remember, phishing and vishing scammers are ultimately using your business name as a false premise to hurt consumers, which will damage your reputation long term if they succeed.

Reporting and responding to phishing and vishing attacks

Here’s what to do in the event of phishing, vishing, or smishing attempts.

  1. If you suspect a phishing or vishing attempt, refrain from clicking links or providing personal information. 
  2. Report the incident to your IT or security team and notify relevant authorities if necessary.
  3. Collaborate closely with your IT and security teams to share relevant details, gather evidence, and implement immediate mitigation measures to neutralize the threat.
  4. After resolving the attack, conduct a comprehensive post-incident analysis to identify vulnerabilities, review response effectiveness and implement necessary improvements to enhance cybersecurity posture and prevent future occurrences.
Protect the customer experience with Hiya

Because trust is a cornerstone of the customer experience, protecting individuals from the hazards of phishing, vishing, and smishing becomes paramount. By recognizing the signs and red flags associated with these attacks, businesses can take proactive measures to strengthen their security protocols to ensure their business name is not being impersonated on any communication channel. In doing so, they safeguard their customers' sensitive information and demonstrate a commitment to fostering a safe and secure online environment.

Knowing the difference between phishing vs vishing vs smishing will empower your organization to prepare against the niche attacks of each cyber scam.

Author Hiya Team