August 12, 2020
These days, it can be pretty difficult to navigate the social and professional worlds without an email address. You need it for everything from paying your bills to getting a job. But with email addresses comes the endless barrage of spam emails and amateur phishing attempts.
So, how can you tell what’s real and what’s not? Let’s take a look! First, what is spam?
- Spam – Spam is an unsolicited email. Spam is a huge part of having an email address—almost a necessary evil. If you don’t get much spam, tell me your secret!
- Phishing – This is another type of spam email. Phishing is a form of email fraud where a scammer poses as a reputable organization or person to get valuable information from you. For instance, a phishing attempt could be an email from your friend who never emails you but suddenly needs $5,000 wired to them from Western Union because some foreign prince’s family needs it. Or, less dramatically, an email from a reputable company requesting your login information.
For example, I received this email a few weeks ago:
It says, “Dear Client, Your Apple ID has been locked for security reasons. To unlock it, you must verify your identity.” Below that was a link I could supposedly tap to take me to Apple’s website to reset my password or answer security questions.
Now, you might panic a little at the thought of losing access to your account. Instead of freaking out, I took a closer look. Some of it looked pretty official—it says it’s from Apple Support, there’s an Apple logo in the upper right, and nothing about this email indicates that it isn’t from Apple. Everything is spelled correctly, and aside from the grammatical error “before 24 hours,” this looks pretty legitimate.
So, how can you tell that this email is not from Apple?
The first thing I did was check the email address. By tapping on the sender’s name at the top of an email (where it says Apple Support in this case), you can reveal the contact card link. If the name turns blue, you can tap on it to see more information.
It says Apple Support here, but I’m pretty sure all those random numbers and letters are not Apple’s official email address! It would be safe to assume the email address should include something about Apple, right? (FYI: It’s usually firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The next thing I noticed was that the font in the “Dear Client” email looked weird. So, like a true detective, I compared it to another email I received previously from Apple.
So, you may notice that even the Apple logo in the header of the “super fake” email is much larger and on a different side than the real Apple email. These differences may seem very obvious now that the emails are side by side. After encountering a few more of these phishing attempts, you’ll learn that it’s not about how convincing you can make the scam look. People don’t necessarily notice irregularities this minor. It’s about making email users feel a sense of urgency to protect their accounts.
The last thing anyone wants to do is lose access to their account and go through the often long and complicated process of resetting their passwords. A scammer’s goal is often to make someone panic enough to miss these warning signs and trick them into giving financial or personal information. Don’t let this happen!
It’s recommended that any time you receive an email where there’s an urgency to unlock your account, change your password, or update your personal information, that you visit the company’s website or app directly instead of clicking any links or attachments in the email.
If you discover that the email is fake, consider reporting it before you delete it. Most companies (Amazon, Apple, PayPal, Walmart, and even the IRS) have created ways for consumers to report phishing emails or other scams directly to them. Each time I receive a suspicious email, I forward it to the phishing email address for that company if they have one. I received this confirmation when I did this for the Apple scam I received:
Though forwarding an email seems like a small thing to do, it can give you some peace of mind knowing that you’ve helped put the attempt on the company’s radar. If you aren’t sure how to forward an email, it’ll depend on your email provider which icon you’ll click or tap. Usually, the icon is a right- or left-facing arrow in the email’s toolbar or hidden in a menu.
In the app: Tap the double arrows in the bottom left and select “Forward.”
In the app: Tap the three dots to the right of the reply arrow and select “Forward.”
And that’s that! So even though spam makes up a lot of the emails you may receive, there are some little things you can do to manage your inbox and protect yourself. After some time, you too will be able to spot a phishing scam. If you’re still curious about phishing, check out MCPL’s online resource Lynda.com for more information!
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