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The 10 Phishing Scams that Target Your Personal Life (& How They Do It)

Phishing scams come in every size and angle. If a message might convince someone to click a toxic link, pay money, or share secure information, you can guarantee that a phishing scammer has tried it. Most of the time, we talk about phishing in a professional context. It’s important to avoid potentially dangerous scams that target your professional role. But phishing hackers don’t respect the work/home boundary, it is not “all in the game”.

Phishing scams often target your personal life, and try to dig in where you are most vulnerable. The recent rise in scams targeting COVID victims makes that abundantly clear. Hackers try to pick an angle you won’t question and a false situation that will force compliant action. So brace yourself for the inevitable attack by knowing the scams currently in use. Let’s take a tour of the top 10 phishing scams that target your personal life.


Impersonating Family Members and Close Friends

What it Takes to Impersonate a Family Member

Impersonating someone close to you is a risk in phishing strategy. You know the person well and often deal with their accounts, but you are also more likely to be casually conversational with close family members. Hackers often study a target’s social media closely before choosing a family member or close friend to briefly impersonate.

1. Quick Question from Family or Friend

Hackers count on your willingness to share personal information readily with people you already know. By impersonating a friend or relative, they can get away with a few “quick questions” (maybe spaced out over several days) that you might not suspect unless you noticed the use of a new account. In this way, targets might be tricked into sharing everything from their password to their social security number.

2. Fake Family Emergency

Another option is to fake an emergence that you feel compelled to respond to – but are unable to be there in person. For example, they may impersonate a teacher who has reprimanded your child, or a doctor in the hospital with your spouse. Questions will be asked in an unfamiliar voice and the scam is to convince you to share private information quickly.

3. Reconnecting with an Old Friend

People reconnect with past friends and coworkers all the time, or touch base every few months. This makes it easier for hackers to impersonate somewhat distant friends or people you have lost touch with.


Something is Wrong with Your Account(s)

Scamming with Already-Stolen Data

A classic phishing approach is to impersonate a rep for one of your service companies. Your bank is a popular choice, as is your healthcare provider, car mechanic,  and any online service you have an account with. They do this with tidbits of already-stolen data. They may have bought a list of names and account numbers, which is how they may have your account number and other basic information already.

4. Vishing with Account Information

Vishing is voice-phishing. In other words, calling you on the phone. Targets are more likely to be cooperative and to respond emotionally on the phone. If a minor false issue is created, a fake service rep can juice a lot of information from a target over the phone, so they call.

5. Tech Support Cold Calling

Tech support never calls you. If you remember this one golden rule, you can avoid an entire genre of phishing scams where the hacker calls to report something wrong with your account. You may be asked to update your password, to confirm your identity, or address any number of minutes. If IT called you, hang up and call the true line.

6. Your Account Has Been Hacked

Hackers love to be ironic, so reporting a false hack of your account is a popular tactic. A common signature is if the warning message feels accusatory, as if the sender suspects you of hacking with the compromised account. Which takes us to the next category of scam.


You are In Trouble or Suspected of Wrongdoing

Using Fear and Urgency Against You

The final tactic of a scammer targeting your personal life is to accuse you – directly or indirectly. In most people, a hostile message accusing them of hacking, cheating, stealing, or even just being suspected can create a sense of panic. People act impulsively and will take less-than-careful actions while trying to fix the situation. This is why hackers use hostile language and accusations to knock targets off-guard.

7. Your Account is Suspected of Misconduct

You may receive a message saying that your account has been identified as the source of criminal acts. Hackers will try to choose a platform that you care about but rarely access. The goal is to get you to panic in self-defense and share information, follow a “remediation” link, or change a password through a hacked page.

Another common variation is a problem with your billing, with the implication that you owe money that must be paid immediately.

8. The Police or Government Demand Your Immediate Action

Hackers often impersonate the government with menacingly worded emails or even physical letters. You may be told that the government or local law enforcement need information from you, to be sent immediately or face the consequences. The fear of legal or even criminal repercussions is a powerful motivator that hackers exploit with this scam type.

9. You Are Being Evicted or Fired

Sometimes, a phishing scam goes nuclear on your personal life. They send a notice that would mean your world is about to collapse. If you rent your home, it might be an eviction notice with a terrifying lack of information. You might get a frighteningly worded letter from “your employer” that suggest your job is at risk. Always, there is a “save yourself” solution that will involve complying with the hacker’s desire for you to send money, share information, or click an infected link.


10. Emergency Care and Services

Lastly, we’d like to give a special spotlight to emergency care phishing scams. Hackers know that families in great need are the most vulnerable, and they attack that vulnerability by impersonating medical care and financial services. These scams often involve collecting a great deal of information and taking the target’s money, then providing no service – leaving desperate families in even worse straits than before. In a classic showing of hacker nature, there has been a surge of COVID service themed scams lately targeting families in financial and medical crisis.


Hackers will target any vulnerability they can see. As a society, we’ve decided not to live in fear of being hacked, life goes on whether or not criminal scammers are trying to steal your data. The practical alternative to hiding is diligent awareness. With this brief overview, you gain a greater resistance to attempts on your personal life. Contact us if you’re interested in more insights to defend from today’s phishing and hacking tactics.