Spam. You’ve heard about it, you’ve read about it. You might be a little cloudy on what it actually is and what it looks like. Spam is a general term— it encompasses any kind of unwanted online solicitation or communication. Most examples of spam you’ll run across are unwanted emails. A lot of the time, spam emails are meaningless. In some cases they cause viruses or carry malware (malicious software).
What about phishing emails? Phishing emails are sent in an attempt to gather sensitive data from or about you. Phishing emails are disguised as emails you may receive from people you know, large companies or corporations. By disguising themselves as brands or people you already know, they appear familiar and less malicious.
Digital scams aren’t just limited to emails. Be wary of phone calls and text messages from contacts you don’t know. Use a call blocker to avoid most scams or phishing phone calls. If one comes through, you may have the option to report the number.
It’s 2020, so sometimes hackers and cyber specialists can outsmart the spam filter on your email platform or bypass your call blocker. So how can you tell the difference between safe emails, unsafe emails and scams in general? Check out some of the signs and tips below.
Signs of scams in your personal life
- Suspicious sender URL: When you get an email, it always comes from a specific email address. For example, let’s say you get an email from your bank. The URL from the sender should be @yourbank.com. If it’s not, chances are it’s spam and you should ignore it.
- Misspelled text: Be cautious when receiving an email from an unknown source with bad grammar or misspelled words. In this case, spammers are looking for easy targets. If you get an email that doesn’t look professional, chances are it’s not.
- “Click here” links: If you get an email that includes links, be cautious. Many types of spam include emails with bad links in them. Clicking on the link could result in a virus unknowingly downloading to your computer. Another telling sign of spam is a link with anchor text which reads “click here.” In most cases, you don’t want to click there. Think of “click here” links as a red button you don’t want to press.
- Attachments: Along with in-text links, signs of spam include attachments. Most legitimate senders don’t include attachments through email. Especially if it’s an email claiming to be your bank or another type of financial establishment. If you’re ever suspicious, look back through your inbox, or you can even call customer support to verify it’s legitimacy.
- Too good to be true: Did you win a tropical paradise adventure, all expenses paid, including meals? When you receive emails that are too good to be true, chances are they are just that. These types of emails attempt to retrieve your personal information by over-promising with their “exclusive offers”.
Signs of scams in your small business
- Suspicious sender URL: Be skeptical of an email from a personal URL when the sender is claiming to represent an entire company or department. Double check to see if the sender URL matches up to the business name. Most legitimate businesses use the name of their business as their online URL. For example, @company.com.
- Urgency Emails: You’ll typically be expecting an email that requires immediate action from you before receiving it. So, if one appears in your inbox out of the blue, it could be a tactic to get you to open the email.
- Atypical Behavior: Receive an email at 2:00 a.m. from a coworker that usually gets off at 5:00 p.m.? Double check the sender URL, content of the email and if there are any suspicious links the content is trying to get you to open. Check in with your coworker via a different method of communication to make sure they sent the email.
Signs of scams in large corporations
- Posing as leadership: If you work for a large company or are enrolled in university, senior leadership may mass communicate through email. However, if you receive an email from senior leadership that’s out of context or requests action from you specifically, be wary. Ask yourself: Is this something my direct manager, professor or advisor should have communicated with me first?
- Embedded Links: Always hover over links to double check their URL address. Sometimes, a harmless looking link is masking something potentially threatening to your company.
- Attachments: Most of the time if an email includes an attachment, you’re expecting to receive it. Be wary of emails with attachments sent without context or warning. These attachments may be carrying malware that can harm your computer.
- Posing as an organization: Most of us probably don’t use our work emails to create Facebook, Amazon or YouTube accounts. So, if you receive an email for a social media notification or a package arriving in your work inbox, it’s probably suspicious.
Signs of scams on telephones and mobile devices
- Similar Phone Number: A phone number with the same area code and the first 3 digits of your phone number is a crafty trick to make you believe you know the caller. Chances are you don’t— especially if the number isn’t saved under your contacts.
- Links in SMS: Analyze text messages that include links before clicking. Is this a link to an online shopping cart or a scam? If it’s an online shopping cart you’ll probably recognize the name and URL.
Here are some tips to help you stay safe online
- Read through the content in question and try to spot any grammatical errors or misspelled words.
- Hover over links or attachments to determine the actual URL. If you’d like to verify that a link is legitimate, you can always run a Google search.
- Double check sender URLs for anything that looks unprofessional or illegitimate.
- Verify you have a reason to be in correspondence with the person or organization in question.
- Double check company branding and logos within the content in question for any discrepancies with the legitimate company.
The best thing about spam? All it takes is one click to get rid of it in your inbox, or to block the caller.