If you have an email address, you have received a spam message at some point in your life. Spam filters are getting better and catching these bogus weight loss offers, deals on medications, and other sketchy offers, but no filter is perfect, and a few of these messages are sure to make it through.
The good news is that bogus email messages tend to come with a few key warning signs. If you know what to look for, you can keep your email box safe from these scams and send these messages to the spam folder where they belong.
Grammar Errors and Misspellings
The scammers have gotten a lot better in recent years, outsourcing their writing to native English-speakers and working hard to clean up obvious grammar problems and spelling mistakes. Even so, some problems still sneak through, and these types of mistakes should be big red flags.
Always read unexpected or unknown email messages thoroughly, going beyond the headline to see what the entire message has to say. Be wary if you spot obvious word usage problems, spelling errors, and other signs that the sender is not who they say they are.
A Warning to ACT NOW
A great deal will still be a great deal tomorrow. An exhortation to ACT NOW, or ORDER TODAY, should always be a warning sign. Watch out for emails that try to scare you into action by implying that something terrible will happen if you fail to act; these are almost always warning signs of a phishing scam or bogus email offer.
Even if you want to ACT NOW, take a step back, set the email aside, and come back to it in a few days. If you still think it is worth your time, take a closer look and check for other signs that the email is a scam before making your move.
A Personal Email Address
Be skeptical of email offers that original from personal email addresses. Emails with an @yahoo.com, @gmail.com, or other such suffix are always cause for concern, as many scammers use these free and easily available addresses to spread their scams around the world.
A professional email address is no guarantee that the offer is legitimate, but a personal email address is a big warning sign that the offer is less than it seems. Many people simply ignore the email address, but they do so at their peril.
Embedded links are a scammer’s best friend, and every year millions of people are taken in. They click on a seemingly legitimate link from their bank or a retailer they trust. When the link opens in a new window, they are prompted to enter their username and password, and they do so in complete trust.
That is a big mistake, since the link goes to a scammer site on a random server somewhere. Fortunately, you do not have to click on a link to see where it goes; just hover your mouse over the link to see the link address. If it does not belong to the proposed sender of the email, simply delete the message and get on with your life.
If there is a legitimate problem with your bank account or product order, the email should include instructions for contacting customer service or logging on to your account. A fake email, on the other hand, might include a warning to change your password (using the embedded link of course) or click a link.
Always read the email carefully and look for alternate ways to contact the purported sender. Look for a phone number or a way to reach the sender without clicking a sketchy link or putting your identity at risk.
The Fine Print
Most scammers do not take the time to write their fine print from scratch. Instead they lift that section of their emails from legitimate sites. As a result, the fine print of a phishing email may not match the rest of the message.
It may take some time (and possibly a magnifying glass), but you should read the fine print carefully before responding in any way. If the email claims to be from your bank but the fine print still shows Amazon.com or eBay, you know you are dealing with a scammer.
Email scams are spreading fast, and if you are not careful, you could be putting your identity at risk. Knowing what to look for is the best way to avoid getting scammed, and the list above is a good place to start.
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