How to Spot Signs of a Phishing Email

December 06, 2019


Phishing emails are among the simplest, yet most effective ways cybercriminals gain access to victims’ personal information. Using things like email addresses, logos, color schemes, and signatures that mirror the setup of known email senders, phishers rely on the rapid pace at which most of us click through our emails in order to trick their way into our inbox. Once a user clicks on such a message, he or she is often prompted to share personal, sensitive information, such as a credit card or Social Security number — and, because the email user believes the message is coming from a known source, like a financial institution or an employer, many freely share the data. The simplicity of the scams is often what makes phishing emails so successful.


One of the best lines of defense against falling prey to a phishing email is using a private email address. With such an account, like those offered by, users are given an added layer of protection through end-to-end encryption — so both sender and receiver can be assured the other is valid. Outside of a private email, here are a few other things to look out for in order to protect yourself from a phishing email:


An unusual salutation: If the email opens with a greeting that sounds promotional or extremely vague, there could be a chance the sender is not who you think.


URL mismatch: Hover your mouse over the sender’s email address; if the linked address that pops up is different (even only by one or two characters), this could be a phishing email.


Misspellings: While not every email message has perfect spelling and grammar, errors are a red flag for a phishing email. Genuine messages from trusted senders, like a bank or retail store, are often thoroughly vetted for any spelling or grammatical errors—so messages purporting to be from those organizations that are littered with inaccuracies shouldn’t be trusted.


Threats: Phishing email often contains a threat that is designed to make the recipient concerned enough that he or she would give up personal information to avoid the promised outcome. For instance, a message may warn the recipient an account will be shut down without their sharing updated credit card information.


Links and attachments: Clicking on links within the text of an email can give cybercriminals a gateway into your email, as can attachments, which can have spyware embedded. Many reputable companies will not send links or attachments to email recipients, so it’s best to completely avoid clicking on them if you do receive such a message.  


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