You consider yourself internet-savvy, right? You’d never fall for one of those phishing emails from some Nigerian “prince” who wants to give you his entire family fortune if you’ll just send your bank account number and a $5,000 transfer fee. But some email scams aren’t that obvious. In fact, sometimes spotting fake emails can be harder than a game of Where’s Waldo in a room full of red-and-white striped shirts.
Phishers love to use stolen email address books to send scams, because we often click on emails from friends without thinking. What else would your friend be sending besides a link to the latest YouTube sensation? And that’s what the scammers are counting on. So let’s talk about how to spot a would-be phisher hiding in your inbox.
The first rule is to think before you click. No matter who and no matter what, don’t click on a link in an email before you read it. Then look for things that don’t make sense. Here’s an example of a real phishing email masquerading as a message from a friend. (Names have been changed to protect the innocent.)
The first red flag here is that the subject line says “Bulk.” Your friends aren’t sending you bulk emails. Also notice that all the first names in the “To:” list are in alphabetical order and only go as far as B, another sign that this is a bulk send using a stolen address book. But these scammers were clever. They including the “Sent from my iPad” message and an inspirational quote to throw you off their scent. (This quote seems like a scammer inside joke. They’re hoping you can’t see the shadow behind this sunny message.) If you think an email might be from a friend but you’re not sure, here’s the final test: forward the email to yourself and check the actual email address of the sender. In this case, forwarding reveals that the sender’s email address is not your friend Erin but an unknown sender (whose address is also spoofed, since praisegate.com appears to be a legitimate religious website.)
From: Erin Scarey <firstname.lastname@example.org>
So that’s it: Check the subject line, check the To: line, check the sender, and if in doubt, delete. Four simple steps and you are well on your way to a black belt in scam spotting. Your prize is to not have your computer infected and your personal information stolen – and that’s a bigger prize than you ever got looking for Waldo.