The Anatomy of a Phishing Email: How to Protect Your Agency

The Anatomy of a Phishing Email: How to Protect Your Agency

What is Phishing?

Phishing is a type of cyber attack that uses fraudulent emails or websites to trick users into disclosing sensitive information or downloading malware.

The goal of phishing is to steal user data like login credentials, credit card numbers, or other personal information that can be used for identity theft or financial fraud. Phishers also aim to get users to install malware like viruses, spyware, or ransomware onto their devices.

Phishing works by impersonating a trustworthy source, like a bank, online service, or organization that the target knows. The phishing message looks legitimate and often uses logos and branding to appear authentic.

These messages will contain links to fake login pages hosted on fraudulent websites. When a user enters their information, the credentials are captured by the phisher. Or the link may contain malware that gets installed when clicked.

Phishing takes advantage of human nature and social engineering techniques to manipulate users into handing over valuable data or compromising their systems. Even security-savvy individuals can be fooled by a particularly convincing phishing attempt.

Common characteristics of phishing emails

Phishing emails often appear to come from legitimate and trusted organizations, they have various characteristics that make them seem official:

  • The sender name, email address, and branding mimic known companies, banks, services, etc.
  • The emails convey a sense of urgency, trying to scare or pressure you into immediate action before something bad happens.
  • Phishing emails frequently threaten account suspension or other negative consequences if you don’t click their links and provide personal information.
  • The emails ask you to verify or update sensitive information by clicking a link and entering details like usernames, passwords, Social Security numbers, or credit card numbers.

These tactics make the scam messages seem more convincing on the surface. However, understanding their common characteristics helps identify and avoid phishing attempts.

Types of Phishing Attacks

Phishers use different tactics to trick their targets into revealing sensitive information or taking harmful actions. Some common phishing attack types include:

Spear Phishing

Spear phishing targets specific individuals or organizations. The phishing emails often appear to come from a person the victim knows and will include details like their name, job title or organization to seem more legitimate. Spear phishing is a very focused attack compared to more general phishing campaigns.


Whaling is a specific type of spear phishing that goes after high-profile targets like corporate executives and politicians. The goal is to access sensitive data by compromising accounts with greater privileges. Whaling emails are highly customized and convincing.

Business Email Compromise (BEC)

With BEC, criminals impersonate executives and try convincing employees to transfer money or share sensitive data. BEC often targets personnel who handle finances and accounting. These attacks rely on spoofed email accounts and urgent demands for action like an executive requesting an urgent wire transfer.

SMS/Phone Phishing

Phishing scams can also occur via phone calls, text messages, or smartphone apps. Criminals may pose as representatives from banks, charities, or delivery companies to trick users into sharing financial account details or one-time passwords. Phone phishing scams increased during the pandemic as more people relied on delivery services.

How Phishing Impacts Insurance Agencies

Phishing can have severe consequences for insurance agencies if they fall victim to these attacks. Some of the main ways phishing impacts the insurance industry include:

  • Data breaches: Phishing is one of the top ways that cybercriminals breach company data. If an employee clicks on a malicious link or attachment in a phishing email, it can allow hackers to infiltrate the network and steal sensitive data. This is especially dangerous for insurance agencies that store confidential client information.
  • Financial losses: Phishing scams are designed to steal money directly from businesses through fraudulent wire transfers or by obtaining login credentials to company accounts. Insurance agencies often handle large sums of money, making them prime targets. Financial losses from phishing can be substantial.
  • Reputational damage: If an insurance agency experiences a data breach or financial scam due to phishing, it can severely hurt its reputation among clients and business partners. People will lose trust in companies that fail to protect sensitive information or get duped by cybercriminals. This loss of goodwill takes years to rebuild.
  • Loss of confidential client information: Insurance agencies store highly sensitive client data like Social Security numbers, driver’s license info, medical records, and financial information. If this data is compromised in a phishing attack, it exposes clients to identity theft and other frauds. This can open up the agency to lawsuits and regulatory penalties for failing to protect confidentiality.

Agencies need strong email security and staff training to recognize and report phishing attempts before they cause damage. Taking proactive anti-phishing measures is essential.

In order to keep your insurance agency safe from phishing scams, it’s best to use a combination of different security methods.

Multi-layer 24/7 protection is the way to go when fortifying your agency’s defenses. Antiviruses alone won’t stop hackers from getting what they want, your precious data.

Scammers are always coming up with new tricks, so it’s important to stay alert and learn about their latest schemes. Learn all about new technology for protecting your agency here.