Phishing Attacks: How to Spot and Avoid Social Engineering Scams

When we think about cybersecurity and the potential threats that being online entails, we generally think of malicious software, hacking, or the theft of digital files. Rarely do we consider the dangers of cybercriminals manipulating our emotions for their benefit.

Well, they do.

Social engineering scams rely on using psychological techniques, manipulation, and taking advantage of people’s trust to trick someone into giving them their own or others’ sensitive or confidential information.

What is Social Engineering?

Social engineering falls into the broad spectrum of phishing attacks, which are techniques used by cybercriminals to try and gain access to information such as credit card details, passwords, or other personal data. 

It is a way for these cybercriminals to hack into our feelings and emotions to access our online accounts, documents, or finances. With this in mind, let’s dive into the typical social engineering scams, how to spot them, and what you can do to avoid them and stay safe online. 

What Are The Different Types of Social Engineering?

Social engineering achieves its end goals by using various techniques to steal personal information. These methods include but are not limited to:

  • email scams 
  • voice mail 
  • SMS messages

To protect yourself against these attacks, the following three types of scams will give you an insight into the common techniques used in social engineering to steal your sensitive information, allowing you to take measures to maintain your security online.


Baiting is the process of piquing a user’s curiosity and ultimately trapping them with malware that steals their information or infects their device with malware. 

The most common form of baiting is scammers who target office blocks and scatter malware-infected USBs on desks or in the car park, hoping that someone thinks a co-worker has dropped it.

Baiting relies on the curiosity of someone using the USB on their office computer to see its contents. Once they have done so, the USB installs a virus or keylogging software or even destroys the computer completely.  

Email or SMS Phishing

Email and SMS phishing are common social engineering techniques that ask for personal information that will help them gain access to your accounts. 

Popular social engineering tactics are messages or links that pretend to come from a trusted source asking to verify your account. This link then takes you to a spoof website and prompts you to enter your login details, which the website sends to the attacker.  

Quid Pro Quo

This scam involves the attacker offering the victim something desirable in return for information; it can be a gift, service, or another form of reward in return for the victim’s passwords or files.

Scareware tactics also use this method, where the threat of huge data or financial losses is emphasized to instill so much fear in the victim that they give away the information to try and resolve the issue immediately. 

How To Avoid Social Engineering Scams

Social engineering techniques play on human emotions, especially feelings of panic or danger. Therefore, if you receive anything that makes you feel suspicious, here are some valuable guidelines to look out for to spot and avoid social engineering scams.

Email and SMS Red Flags

Be extremely wary of emails or SMS with links or attachments from unknown sources. If you need clarification, report the message or ignore it. Use email encryption and spam filters and look out for grammar or spelling mistakes in the email.

Protect Your Accounts

Use strong passwords to minimize the risk of attacks on your accounts; using a password generator ensures that any attacks on your account are resistant to dictionary and brute-force attacks. 

Other methods you should implement include: 

  • Regularly update software
  • Install anti-virus software
  • Use Multi-Factor Authentication 


Verifying the website’s security certificate, email addresses, and ID of the person or company asking for your personal information; if they are who they say they are, they will be happy to provide this information. 


The dangers of social engineering scams may be intimidating. Still, with the proper cyber awareness and knowledge, you can implement protective knowledge to keep you safe online and these types of attacks at bay.