Detecting and Avoiding Email Scams

It’s hard to tell where an email is coming from nowadays. Scam emails are masked to appear legitimate in hopes of tricking you into downloading a virus or providing personal information. To avoid being a victim, here are ways of detecting and avoiding email scams.

Signs of a Scam

Avoiding email scams is actually not too difficult, if you know what to look for. Here are several different signs that an email may not be legitimate.

  • It includes an attachment (such as a .zip or .exe file).
  • It’s riddled with typos.
  • It contains a long or funny looking link.
  • It contains no true identifying information (such as a full name, title, or company name).
  • It comes from an unfamiliar source.
  • It’s unexpected.
  • It comes from an entity that would not contain your email to begin with.
  • The reply address does not match the sender’s address.

Common Email Scams

Here are some very common email scams that we see pop up almost every week.

  1. An Email from Someone You Know, Containing just a Link
    If you receive an email from a friend or family member that contains just a link or attachment and no further explanation, their email list may have been hacked. These messages normally have a funny looking url and say something short and simple like “You’ve got to check this out.” or “This is amazing!”
  2. An Official Email from the IRS or a Shipping Compan
    Another tactic used by scammers is to make an email appear to be from a legitimate source. The email may be designed to include the company logo and color scheme. However, if you stop and think about it, how would that company have received your email address?

    The IRS does not ask for your email address when you fill out a tax return. The US Postal Service would have no way of getting your email address either, unless you specifically gave it to them. If you receive an urgent email from the IRS or an urgent alert from a shipping company warning you about a package that could not be delivered, it’s most likely a scam.

  3. A Password Reset Prompt
    Another very common email scam is a warning about your password expiring. It may appear to come from your email provider, server company, etc. It prompts you to click on a link and reset your password. This is merely a trick to get you to provide your username and password, so that you account can be hacked.

Common Sense Approaches to Emails

The best way of avoiding email scams is using some common sense precautions.

  • Avoid Links – Don’t click on links in generic or unexpected emails, especially if they look suspicious. If you hover your mouse over a hyperlink, your browser will show you the full website address that it’s linked to.
  • Protect Your Information – Never provide your login or other personal information from a link in an email. Visit those websites directly, instead, to ensure you are on the correct website.
  • Avoid Attachments – Never open unexpected attachments.

When in doubt, double check with the source first. If an email is legitimate, you should be expecting it and it should not contain any obvious red flags.

Other Ways of Avoiding Email Scams

Ultimately, the best way of avoiding email scams is to use your judgement. Often times, we feel something isn’t quite right but proceed anyway. Maybe it’s because the email sounds urgent or because we question our own judgement. The reality is that those instincts are often correct. In those cases, you should definitely err on the side of caution to avoid a potential scam.