Read on to find out the best ways to protect yourself online by learning how to identify scam emails and the best ways to avoid them.
Without an email address, it’s hard to accomplish much of anything online. For many of us, email has become an integral means of contact, enabling us to communicate with friends and services, including online banking, social media and web hosting.
But in a world where email is so frequently accessed for both business and personal reasons, fake emails – commonly referred to as Phishing scams – continue to plague inboxes, with orchestrators hoping to hack into victims’ online accounts, potentially leading to financial and identity fraud, among other malicious practices.
But what are the most common characteristics of a phishing email? Would you know how to spot one? And furthermore, would you know what to do if you suspected that your email had been hacked? Let’s get to it…
How to Spot a Phishing Email: Top 7 Signs
1. Sense of Immediacy
Online fraudsters are renowned for employing tactics that work to create fear and unease, causing users to feel like they have no option but to act right now. This is achieved by producing worrisome email subject lines and bodies – warning that something awful has already happened, or could be about to.
While your first instinct may be to put out the apparent fire, remember that hackers are hoping for an emotionally-driven, kneejerk response. Don’t make it easy for them; instead, compose yourself and read through the email’s content again with a clear head.
Phishing emails commonly include malicious content, such as virus-laced attachments and hyperlinks leading to spoofed sites; all of which is designed to steal confidential data, such as account logins and personally identifiable information (more on that a little later).
Whether it’s an email claiming that your bank account was hacked, or that an unauthorized Amazon order was placed, always contact the company directly at source (visit the official website manually via your browser) to verify authenticity of the claim.
2. Spelling, Grammar, Tone, Vagueness
Reputable companies and institutions take the time to carefully prepare email correspondence for their audiences – and it usually shows in a big way. It’s in the interest of banks, for instance, to only release high quality, proofread copy for their customers.
In that case, if you encounter any of the following warning signs in an email claiming to be from a legitimate service, your scam detector should start ringing:
- Poor Spelling & Grammar: A distracting number of spelling and grammatical oversights is usually a strong indicator that you could be dealing with something awry.
- Inappropriate/Off Tone: Emails from professional companies should be written in a considered, appropriate tone; if an email strikes you as being unusual in this regard, take note of it.
- Impersonal/Vague Feel: If an email appears notably vague on details – lacking expected, formal info such as a surname (‘Dear Sir/Madam/Customer’) – this also shouldn’t go unnoticed.
3. Suspicious Sender Address
If you have doubts about an email’s legitimacy, never neglect to check out the sender address. Remember, in order to win over your trust, scammers will pose as genuine brands or organizations by using similar-sounding – but not quite the same – email addresses.
So, if you receive a potentially bogus email, ensure that you carefully read the sender address – scrutinizing it right down to the letter! Unfortunately, some fraudsters are capable of mimicking trusted email addresses, allowing theirs to show as ‘verified’.
This can make life difficult – even for ultra-discerning users – but once again, if still in doubt, don’t go any further until you’ve contacted the service directly for confirmation of the email’s origin.
4. Dubious Attachments
Attachments containing photos, graphics and documents, are commonplace in today’s world, especially in the workplace. The problem is that just about anything can be sent as an attachment – meaning it’s totally possible for scammers to send viruses.
But they obviously wouldn’t label them as such – instead, they would choose a title along the lines of something much more innocuous and unassuming, like ‘June Sales Report’ or ‘Order Confirmation Form’.
Since scam emails can covertly harbour malicious software, such as malware designed to scrape sensitive info from your device, never download suspicious attachments until you have contacted the colleague/company for confirmation that they did indeed send it.
5. Misleading Hyperlinks
Email correspondence can often include hyperlinks which provide convenient shortcuts to relevant and important sections of a company’s website; these links enable us to login and complete tasks, such as updating account information and viewing orders, etc.
But hyperlinks aren’t necessarily helpful – those created by scammers often lead to spoofed websites, unbeknownst to the user. Through these phony sites, scammers can steal various forms of information entered, such as logins, account numbers, names and addresses.
This can lead to all kinds of problems for the user, including compromised online accounts, financial loss, and even identity theft. And so, it goes without saying that, before clicking on any hyperlinks, you really ought to know exactly where they’re headed.
For instance, an ‘Amazon’ hyperlink could in fact be pointing to ‘Amazzon.com’ instead of ‘Amazon.com’ – note the extra ‘z’, indicative of a ruse. It’s often good practice to check hyperlinks as a rule, even within emails that you’re almost certain are genuine.
Phishing scams can be very deceptive, after all, and so you can never really be too careful. Remember, if you have any doubts concerning an email’s authenticity, ignore the email itself and access the company’s website manually through the address bar; this way you can rest assured that your data will remain as safe as possible.
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