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    What is Spoofing? How This Scam Works and How To Protect Yourself

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    Name a form of communication and there’ll be spoofers using it to steal people’s identities and personal information. 

    Spoofing is when scammers falsify information to appear legitimate. This allows them to deceive people into divulging personal or financial information, downloading malware, or providing access to data or systems. As forms of communication increase from emails to phone calls and websites, spoofing attacks become more sophisticated and prevalent. 

    In this guide, we discuss what spoofing is, how spoofing works, different types of spoofing attacks, and how you can protect yourself from falling victim to these scams.

    What is spoofing?

    Spoofing is when cybercriminals imitate a trusted source, such as a friend, colleague, company, or family member, in order to gain your confidence and make you do something beneficial to them but detrimental to you. The motive behind spoofing attacks is usually to spread malware, steal money or data, or gain access to systems.

    Most spoofing attacks involve disguising an email address, phone number, website URL, or display name to convince targets that messages are coming from a trusted source. This is usually done with slight modifications in the name so it looks the same at a quick glance. For example, you may receive an email that looks like it’s from Amazon but on second glance you see it’s actually from Amaz0n. 

    Pretty much any scamming scenario that involves the use of false identities can be referred to as a spoofing attack. Most cases of spoofing also rely on social engineering, a psychological manipulation tactic that preys on human vulnerabilities like fear, greed, or lack of technical know-how. Spoofing can come in many forms, both online and offline, including email spoofing, website spoofing, caller ID spoofing, and IP spoofing. 

    How spoofing works

    Spoofing attacks usually involve two parts: 

    1. Creating a deceptive facade that looks trustworthy, e.g. a fake website or forged email.
    2. Using social engineering to manipulate victims into taking the desired action, e.g. send money or download malware. 

    For example, you may receive an email that appears to be from a reputable tech company urging you to immediately download a software update to keep your computer secure. Spoofers are great at creating a sense of urgency that manipulates recipients to take quick action. In this case, it would be unknowingly downloading harmful malware while thinking it was a secure software update. 

    There are different types of spoofing attacks from simple scams through emails, websites, or phone calls, to more technologically advanced attacks that play on IP addresses or Domain Name System (DNS) servers. Regardless of the type, almost all spoofing attacks bank on the trust we have in big company names like Amazon or PayPal, using these names as a front to rush us into taking actions or stealing our sensitive information. 

    Successful spoofing attacks can have significant ramifications, such as stealing data and login details or gaining unauthorized network access. On an individual level, falling for a spoofing scam can result in downloading malware, compromising your personal and financial information, or losing money. At a company level, spoofing attacks can infect systems, break into networks, and result in huge financial losses from data leaks. 

    Different types of spoofing

    There are many different types of spoofing attacks that can happen both online and offline. Below, we discuss the most common types of spoofing, how to recognize them, and how to protect yourself.  

    Email spoofing 

    Email spoofing involves sending emails with a fake sender address to trick recipients into thinking the message is from someone they know and trust. Usually this is done with a falsified “From:” line that tricks people into thinking the email is from a friend, family member, colleague, bank, or company.  In most cases, recipients take emails at face value and don’t inspect the email header closely enough to recognize a fraudulent email address. 

    Spoof emails are usually sent as part of a phishing attack. They may ask recipients to make a money transfer, share access permissions, or download an attachment that contains malware. 

    Spoof emails usually involve a range of features designed to mislead recipients, including: 

    • Missing or hard-to-find sender address 
    • False sender address that looks like someone you know (e.g. amaz0n.com)
    • Familiar corporate branding elements, like logos, buttons or colors 
    • Language with typos, bad grammar, or unusual syntax
    • Spear phishing attacks are more targeted and can include personalized language, including addressing recipients by name. 

    How to spot and prevent email spoofing 

    Below are some ways you can recognize and protect yourself from email spoofing attacks:

    1. Check sender details: Spoof emails often mimic legitimate addresses but have slight variations or misspellings. 
    2. Inspect email content: Pay attention and be cautious of any urgent or overly insistent language that pushes you to take immediate action, especially if that involves sending money or sharing sensitive information. 
    3. Verify links and attachments: Hover your cursor over any included links before you click on them to inspect the URL. Spoof emails usually direct you to fake websites. At the same time, avoid downloading or opening unexpected attachments. 
    4. Use throwaway email accounts: Set up a specific email account you can use when registering for websites. This can reduce the risk of your everyday email address appearing in lists used to send spoofed emails in bulk. 
    5. Use a spam filter: Turn on your spam filter to redirect most spoof emails away from your main inbox. 

    Website spoofing 

    Also known as URL spoofing, website spoofing is when scammers build fraudulent websites that mimic a real, trusted website. These fake websites copy the logo and login page of a legitimate website and use a similar URL to appear genuine (e.g. www.netffix.com instead of www.netflix.com). When a visitor lands on the fraudulent website, scammers will try to steal their login details or plant malware in their device. 

    Website spoofing often goes hand-in-hand with email spoofing attacks. For example, you may receive a spoof email from your “bank” requesting you to update your details via a specific URL. When you click through, it takes you to a spoof website where your login details will be captured by the scammers and used to access your account.  

    How to avoid website spoofing

    Below are some ways you can recognize and avoid website spoofing attacks: 

    • Type URLs directly: If you receive an email containing a link, manually enter the website address into your browser. This allows you to spot misspellings (e.g. a lowercase L instead of a capital I)  and make sure you’re going to the real website. 
    • Check for secure connections: Look for https:// at the beginning of the URL and a padlock in the address bar. This means that your connection is encrypted and more likely to be genuine.  
    • Look for inconsistencies: Spoof websites rarely get everything right. Check for poor spelling or grammar and logos or colors that look slightly off. Also, scroll through the entire website to check that content is complete. Spoofed websites often have blank privacy policy or terms & conditions pages. 
    • Use a password manager: These handy tools store your login credentials for particular websites and can help you detect a spoof. If your password manager doesn’t automatically populate when you land on a website with stored login details, it can be an indication of fraud. 

    Caller ID spoofing 

    Also known as phone spoofing, caller ID spoofing involves scammers disguising their true identity by manipulating the information sent to your caller ID. This can make it appear like a phone call is coming from a local or known number, increasing the likelihood of you answering the phone.

    The goal behind phone spoofing is to trick recipients into picking up the call. When you answer a spoof phone call, scammers might try to extract sensitive information or pose as a legitimate entity, such as a government agency, to perpetrate a scam.  

    Besides caller ID spoofing, another type of phone attack is text message spoofing. This involves sending a text message from a fraudulent number, usually leading to a false website that encourages visitors to make a payment or share login details. 

    How to prevent phone spoofing 

    There are a few measures you can take to protect yourself from phone spoofing attempts, such as: 

    1. Be cautious of unknown numbers: If you don’t recognize a number, consider letting it go to voicemail. Most legitimate callers will leave a message if it’s important. 
    2. Hang up & call them back: If a caller claims to be from a known entity, consider hanging up and calling them back using a verified phone number from their official website or documents. 
    3. Don’t share sensitive information over the phone: Unless you have initiated a call yourself, avoid revealing sensitive information over the phone, even if they claim to be someone you trust. 
    4. Use call blocking or filtering services: Check if your phone carrier has call-blocking apps or services. These can detect and block known spoofed numbers. 

    IP Spoofing 

    Unlike email spoofing, which targets users, IP spoofing targets networks. In this type of spoofing, attackers try to breach a system by sending messages that use a fake or spoofed IP address. This makes it seem like the message was sent from a trusted source within the same network, like an internal computer, rather than an unknown third party. 

    Detecting IP address spoofing attacks early on is crucial, because they’re often part of DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks, which are capable of taking entire networks offline. 

    How to prevent IP spoofing (for website owners) 

    There are various measures you can take to prevent an IP spoofing attack, including:   

    1. Monitor networks: Keep an eye on how data moves within your network to spot unusual activity, such as abnormal amounts of data going to an unexpected destination. This can help you catch potential IP spoofing attacks quickly. 
    2. Use packet filtering systems: These tools act as gatekeepers that inspect data packets traveling through your network and detect inconsistencies. They’ll notice if a data packet claims to be from one place but doesn’t match the usual addresses used in your network. 
    3. Implement verification methods for remote access: If someone tries to access your network remotely, make sure they are who they claim to be. You can do this with two-factor authentication, passwords, or other secure methods. 
    4. Use a network attack blocker: Have systems in place that can detect and block malicious attacks. These can stop suspicious data packets in their tracks and prevent them from causing harm. 
    5. Keep some computer resources behind a firewall: Firewalls act as protective shields between your internal network and the outside world. Have some devices behind a firewall to add an extra layer of security and make it harder for attackers to get in. 

    How to protect yourself from spoofing attacks

    While you can’t prevent spoofing attempts, you can learn to recognize potential attacks and take precautions to avoid falling victim to them. Below, we summarize the steps you can take to detect spoofing attacks and protect yourself: 

    1. Be cautious of emails containing links and attachments: Avoid opening links or attachments from sources you don’t recognize. If in doubt, steer clear! 
    2. Watch out for poor language: Bad grammar, spelling, or inconsistencies in logos and content are a sign of spoof attacks. 
    3. Hover over links to check URLs: Before clicking on a link from an email or a message, hover your cursor over it to reveal the URL. If it seems suspicious or unfamiliar, it could be part of a scam. 
    4. Check sender details: Expand sender details in an email to verify their email address. Pay attention to any minor alterations, like replacing a lowercase L with a capital I. 
    5. Be aware of phone calls from unknown numbers: Avoid sharing sensitive information over the phone, and if possible, hang up and call back the claimed entity or organization yourself. 
    6. Use two-factor authentication (2FA): This adds an extra layer of security to your accounts and makes it harder for attackers to access them, even if they have your password. 
    7. Protect your personal information: Wherever possible, avoid sharing personal or financial details online unless you’re absolutely certain that the source is trustworthy. 
    8. Keep software updated: Regularly update your software to benefit from security patches, bug fixes, and new features. These can reduce the chances of being infected by malware or experiencing a security breach. 

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