How to Spot a Phishing Email

How to Spot a Phishing Email

Last month’s Gmail phishing email scam was the most widespread so far this year. It was an especially crafty version of a phishing email, more accurately referred to as spear phishing. What the difference between phishing and spear phishing? We explain it in this blog post, but the difference is in familiarity. In a phishing scheme, the email is broad and generic. A self-proclaimed Nigerian Prince wants to give you (not specifying who you are) some money. Please send a bank account number ASAP! A spear phishing email mentions the recipient by name, but it also comes from a familiar name. That is why they are so effective!

We’ve included a handy infographic a the bottom to post as a reminder. The embedding code is at the bottom of the page. Feel free to share this on your website as long as you cite the source!

That’s why last month’s Gmail phishing email spread so fast and far – it appeared to emanate from someone known to the recipient. One of our authors received it. The email friendly name was a person he used to work with! However, the actual email address did not match!

How Do I Tell if an Email is a Phishing Email?

Identifying a phishing email is not as hard as you might think. With a closer look at the email, they are easy to spot. The one caveat is, you must slow down, investigate each email a little BEFORE you click on any links. It makes sense to install antivirus software on your laptop too! That way, you will have an extra set of “eyes” checking every incoming email.

Phishing Email

Steps to Spot a Phishing Email

  1. Examine the From Email Address
    The “From” email account is different than the “From friendly” name. Email “from” addresses have two parts – the friendly name and the email box. The friendly is commonly and easily spoofed. The from email address is not. In the case of the Gmail phishing email, this was the biggest clue that the email was a fake. Look at the sender.

    The screenshot below shows yet another phishing scam I received today. The logos caught my attention and the email seemed legitimate at first pass. Looking at the email address closely revealed it was a cleverly crafted phishing scam.

  2. THINK about the contents of the email.
    Does it make sense or does it seem too good to be true? This is part of examining an email before selecting any links. Many phishing scams offer large sums of money. Those are fairly obvious. The Gmail spear phishing scam simply offered to share a Google Doc from someone you know. If you don’t use Google Docs at all, then this would be the tip off. If you do use Google Docs, then you may have been fooled. However, the from email address was the clue.

    How to detect SPAM

    [FIGURE 1]
  3. Hover (but don’t click on) links
    Read All URLS (Do NOT Click!). If you still are not sure if the email is a fake, then HOVER over the links but do NOT click on them! Look at the domain name. Does it match the sender’s email box? Is a legitimate domain name that you know> Be careful! Hackers purchase domain names that are very similar to legitimate websites hoping to catch unsuspecting readers.
  4. Don’t Be Fooled by Logos!
    The phishing email I received [Figure 1} was well put together. The logos are an added touch to convince the reader that the email is legitimate. In reality, the logos mean nothing and are nothing but trademark violations.

What to Do if You Receive a phishing email?

Never click on any hyperlinks. Do not reply to the email. Do not call any phone numbers listed in the email. Mark the email as SPAM. Delete It Notify your system administrator

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Michelle writes about cyber security, data privacy focusing on social media privacy as well as how to protect your IoT devices. She She has worked in internet technology for over 20 years and owns METRONY, LLC. Michelle earned a B.S. in Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Michelle published a guide to Cyber Security for Business Travelers