How to Identify Scam Emails
Scam emails, also known as "phishing attacks", are common attempts by cybercriminals to persuade unsuspecting users into giving away information or download malicious software.
Consequences of Failing to Identify Scams
- Viruses can be downloaded onto your computer
- Login credentials to any site can be stolen
- Banking information and other personal information sent to an attacker
- Your identity stolen
Goals of Scammers
These are what the bad guys want you to do, so these are things you shouldn't do until you know the email is legitimate:
- Click on a link
- Download or open an attachment
- Respond to the email with sensitive information including username, password, banking details, or other personal info
- Call a number for support
Note - as long as your browser (Chrome, Firefox, etc.) and email client (Outlook, Thunderbird, etc.) are updated, it's safe to open an email and inspect the contents.
How to Identify Scam Emails
We have included several examples at the bottom of the page of phishing emails sent specifically to the Life Sciences College. Please review these!
Want a fun activity to see how well you can spot scam emails? You can try taking the Phishing IQ Test as a fun activity to test yourself! This site is safe to enter your name and work email. The test will be 10 yes or no questions.
Specific points of interest:
- Sender's address
- Subject line
- Email purpose
- Email "vibe"
- Bad vs. good phishing emails
Toggle ItemSender's Address
Phishing emails often will try to impersonate another person or organization. Hackers will use email spoofing to create a fake email that looks legitimate.
In this example, the visible alias is "Byu Admin". When looking at the actual address, it is coming from "email@example.com"; we can see the email is obviously not legitimate. If you ever see an email or link that sticks out, you should always check the actual address by hovering your mouse over the sender name.
Toggle ItemSubject Line
The goal of phishing is to steal information or deliver malware. To get you hooked, attackers will often include "click-baity" subject lines that make you want to open the email and follow the instructions. These subject lines can include words such as alert, malware, required, immediate, out of date, delayed, updated, confidential, attention, unusual, and more!
Subject lines may also be crafted to make you trust them. Many phishers will include titles such as "Your ticket #192837547", making you believe that they are contacting you about a ticket that you, or someone in your organization, already created. If you didn't create that specific ticket, talk with others to see if they did. If no one knows about it, it's likely a scam.
Toggle ItemEmail Purpose
Always ask yourself, "What do they want me to do?" If you can recognize the purpose of the email being sent, you will better be able to evaluate the validity of the sender and legitimacy of the email.
If they want you to log into a site, is the site legitimate? If they're sending a fake invoice, did you pay for that service? If you received an email about a support ticket, did you file that ticket? Taking a step back to analyze WHY the email was sent can help you analyze it more accurately.
Toggle ItemEmail "Vibe"
The power of intuition is unmatched - if an email seems "weird" or "off", trust your gut! Did you get an email from a friend asking for money, but it just "doesn't seem like them"? It may not be! The best thing to do in that case is reach out to the friend NOT through email and verify that they sent you the message. You can never be too cautious when it comes to email security.
Knowing where a link will send you is very important, and you should always check to see what the link goes to before clicking on it. Hovering over a link should show the URL in the bottom left corner of your browser.
Does it look funny, like trgflu.xyz? Probably bad! Does it seem close to a legitimate site, but not quite (like http://wwwgoogle.com?) Don't click on it! Can you only see a short URL like bit.ly? Use a service like expandurl.net to see where it ACTUALLY goes and if it is safe.
Toggle ItemBad vs. good phishing emails
Many times when we think of scam emails, we think of bad grammar, broken images, weird characters, horrible formatting, etc. Those are prime examples of bad phishing emails. However, not all phishing emails appear that way. Someone who really knows what they're doing will be able to craft a good phishing email that has perfect grammar, great formatting, and a legitimate feel. You need to be on alert for these ones also, since they are the more dangerous ones. The above points of interest apply to these good scam emails also, so please pay attention!
Protecting yourself from phishing
To finish this article a few suggestions have been included below to help in avoiding phishing emails:
- Hover over links: Always hover over the URL in an email to ensure it leads to a safe landing page.
- Don’t log in to critical apps from email: Any notification sent via email will also exist inside the application.
- Invest in phishing email awareness training: Users should be trained on a regular basis to spot the latest attacks and techniques.