There is a degree of complexity when it comes to phishing emails that you might receive into your Inboxes. Some are clearly a load of rubbish – it’s almost like they put no effort into it at all.
Some ISPs even do the job for us and for those senders that constantly send out thousands of emails, to thousands of accounts, a pattern can be deduced quite quickly and various message filters can just delete the message before it even makes it to your account.
Spammers are getting smarter however, constantly playing a cat and mouse game with techniques to avoid filters – things like SPF and DKIM, designed to support legitimate emails, are being leveraged to add weight to fake emails and make their way through checks and filters.
But… some make it through, just in the same way that junk mail falls through your letterbox each week, no matter how many times you think you haven’t signed up for anything.
However, there is the difference with email, and phishing in particular; your online footprint is the most likely cause of you receiving the emails in the first place. You can’t really cancel your email address, so what do you do to spot the ones that make it through…
Step 1 – Check it for typos
This may sound like a really simple test, and does rely on your own spelling being up to scratch, but some emails are often translated poorly by non-English speakers, sent in English. With English being the 2nd most spoken language in the World, it’s a pretty large chunk of the ‘market’ to target. However, the emails often originate from non-English speaking countries. So spelling mistakes and grammar mistakes often are a good giveaway.
Step 2 – Is it getting you to do something you weren’t expecting or didn’t initiate
With a sense of desperation in the message, sometimes worded around a time-limit imposed – for example, around expiry dates, or warnings of things being deleted, or perhaps asking you to verify or set something up - ask yourself, did you trigger this email?
If it’s asking you to access an account, perhaps Skype, Paypal, eBay, etc – something a large majority of users have – don’t use the link in the email. Open your browser, and visit the website in question and check your notifications and messages directly instead.
Step 3 – If it mentions a person’s name, Google it if you’re sitting on the fence
If you’ve decided the email could be real, but you aren’t quite sure, and you need to do some more digging, Google the name of the person it says it’s from. Chances are, it’s been used in other attempts, meaning others will have confirmed its true nature.
For example, a recent Tesco Bank email, coming from a @tescobank.com address, was signed by “Steve Rubenstein”, the Category Director of Every Day Banking. This personal touch and job title is supposed to make you think this is a real message – but a quick Google and you’ll soon discover that name has been used in various bank email scams since 2012.
Step 4 – Remember anyone can create anything on the web, and become anyone
Before email and Internet traffic, scammers still existed. There have been various telephone scams in existence, fake door-to-door salesmen and electricity meter readers and, for a long time, counterfeit goods. All of these ideals are around the concept of faking something and instigating an idea, generally for financial gain.
The web gave way to more tools, more connectivity and more opportunities. Knowing this fact alone is enough to be suspicious and careful when using email and the Internet. While you place trust in various websites and choose not to shop at ones that look or appear differently to the others, spotting emails that look genuine is very hard to do. And it comes with practice.
It is now easier than ever for scammers to deploy tactics to get users to give up information – whether that is login details, passwords, or even just clicking on the handy ‘unsubscribe’ link they provide. Even that isn’t there for you take yourself from their list – it’s there to confirm your account is actually active.
So if in doubt… delete it.