Think that email offering a $5 Starbucks gift card is legitimate? Received an email from the bank but didn’t expect it? Is your healthcare provider asking for sensitive information via email? Don’t fall for it! This technique is called phishing, and it’s a way hackers con you into providing your personal information or account data. Once your info is obtained, hackers create new user credentials or install malware (such as backdoors) into your system to steal sensitive data.
Phishing emails today rarely begin with, "Salutations from the son of the deposed Prince of Nigeria..." and it's becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish a fake email from a verified one. But, most have subtle hints of their ill-intended nature. Here are seven email phishing examples to help you recognize a malicious email and maintain email security.
- Legit companies don’t request your sensitive information via email
Chances are if you receive an unsolicited email from an institution that provides a link or attachment and asks you to provide sensitive information, it’s a scam. Most companies will not send you an email asking for passwords, credit card information, credit scores, or tax numbers, nor will they send you a link from which you need to login.
- Legit companies usually call you by your name
Phishing emails typically use generic salutations such as “Dear valued member,” “Dear account holder,” or “Dear customer.” If a company you deal with required information about your account, the email would call you by name and probably direct you to contact them via phone. BUT, some hackers simply avoid the salutation altogether. This is especially common with advertisements.
- Legit companies have domain emails
Don’t just check the name of the person sending you the email. Check their email address by hovering your mouse over the ‘from’ address. Make sure no alterations (like additional numbers or letters) have been made. Check out the difference between these two email addresses as an example of altered emails: email@example.com versus firstname.lastname@example.org. Just remember, this isn’t a foolproof method. Sometimes companies make use of unique or varied domains to send emails, and some smaller companies use third party email providers.
- Legit companies know how to spell
Possibly the easiest way to recognize a scam email is bad grammar. An email from a legitimate organization should be well written. Little known fact – there’s actually a purpose behind bad syntax. Hackers generally aren’t stupid. They prey on the uneducated believing them to be less observant and thus, easier targets.
- Legit companies don’t force you to their website
Sometimes phishing emails are coded entirely as a hyperlink. Therefore, clicking accidentally or deliberately anywhere in the email will open a fake web page, or download spam onto your computer.
- Legit companies don’t send unsolicited attachments
Unsolicited emails that contain attachments reek of hackers. Typically, authentic institutions don’t randomly send you emails with attachments, but instead direct you to download documents or files on their own website.
Like the tips above, this method isn’t foolproof. Sometimes companies that already have your email will send you information, such as a white paper, that may require a download. In that case, be on the lookout for high-risk attachment file types include .exe, .scr, and .zip. (When in doubt, contact the company directly using contact information obtained from their actual website.)
- Legit company links match legitimate URLs
Just because a link says it’s going to send you to one place, doesn’t mean it’s going to. Double check URLs. If the link in the text isn't identical to the URL displayed as the cursor hovers over the link, that's a sure sign you will be taken to a site you don’t want to visit. If a hyperlink’s URL doesn’t seem correct, or doesn’t match the context of the email, don’t trust it.
It doesn’t matter if we have the most secure IT security system in the world. It takes only one untrained employee to be fooled by a phishing attack and give away the data we’ve worked so hard to protect. At home and at work, make sure both you and everyone you work with understands these specific email phishing examples and all of the telltale signs of a phishing attempt.
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