According to Business Matters, spam messages generated 55% of global e-mail traffic in 2019.
Spam messages containing scams, viruses, and other harmful information are not only annoying to receive but can also be dangerous.
To protect yourself online and become aware of hazards, keep reading to learn how to tell if an email is fake and what you should do.
What Is an Online Scam?
How do you define a scammer and what does being scammed mean? These are two very important questions when it comes to understanding how to stay safe online.
A scammer is “a person who commits fraud or participates in a dishonest scheme”. To be scammed means that the dishonest person has convinced you to do what he/she wants you to do.
An example of a scam is someone claiming you have won a competition or a sum of money. The person then insists they need your bank account details to transfer the money. When you give them these personal details, you realize that no money has gone into your account, but instead, money has gone out.
There’s a range of online scams to look out for. One of those scams is known as phishing. Phishing is where a criminal sends you an email that seems to be genuine and asks for your personal information or details.
Phishing often occurs in email form and includes a link that the criminal wants you to click on. The email and the link are designed to look legitimate and encourage you to click on it.
However, when you do click on the link you might go through to a different website or provide information to someone who claimed to be a trusted business but is actually a criminal.
Phishing is a term derived from the word fishing. The criminals dangle a fake lure in front of your face, hoping you take the bait and click on the link.
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Information that scammers often ask for include credit card or bank numbers, passwords, account numbers, usernames, and personal information.
How to Spot a Scammer: 5 Ways to Determine Fake Emails
Spotting a scammer is difficult. Scammers are becoming smarter and creating more authentic looking emails every day. Luckily, there are a few ways you can determine whether an email is fake or genuine.
1. Asks for Urgent Action
Emails that ask you to take urgent action are most likely to be fake or scams. Most emails from trusted businesses don’t write that you need to act immediately.
A good way to ensure that you aren’t ignoring an important email is by contacting the company who claims you need to take urgent action. Don’t reply to the email or click on any of the details on it, instead search for the company online and speak to their customer service department.
Once in touch with a customer service operative, you can ask them if your account is okay or if you need to take any action. They should be able to look into your account and activity and be able to determine this is a matter of minutes.
If they can’t see anything wrong with your account then you can rest assured that the email was a scam.
2. Requests Personal Information
If you receive an email requestion personal information, you should always be wary. For privacy and data laws, many businesses don’t ask you to confirm your personal data over an email.
Some email scams are created to steal your login details for a website. Often the email will ask you to provide your details or click on a link to a website so you can fill in a form.
To check whether you need to do anything regarding your personal information, you can log into the website. Go onto your search engine and access the website that way, don’t click on anything in the email. Alternatively, you might choose to ring up the company’s customer service and resolve any potential issues with them.
3. Misspelled or Incomplete Words
A key indication that an email is fake or a scam is by looking out for poor grammar or spelling. Emails from reputable businesses are always spelled correctly because they have a team of dedicated content writers.
Scam emails may be written in a rush or by someone whose first language isn’t English, so there might be several spelling and grammar mistakes. Double-check the email for mistakes before carrying out any action.
Remember that if you get an email claiming to be from a legitimate company but it is littered with grammatical errors then it is probably a scam. If you still aren’t sure, check the email against other emails from the company and see if the tone of voice matches.
4. Check the Link (Without Clicking on It)
A lot of phishing emails contain a link that they want you to click on. So, a good way to determine whether or not the email is fake is by checking the link. But not by clicking on it!
You can inspect a link in an email without clicking on it by placing your cursor over the link. At the bottom of the email, or browser you’ll see the actual website address.
If it differs from the link in the email then it is a scam. If the link looks suspicious then don’t click on it.
Another way to find out if the link is genuine is by right-clicking on the link in the email. Then from the drop-down menu, select ‘copy link location’ and paste the link in a program such as Microsoft Word.
By doing this, you’ll be able to view the entire address for the link. Look up the real company’s website address and see if the two match. If they are different, then it is a scam and you shouldn’t click on it.
5. Not Addressed to You
The final way to determine whether an email is fake or not is by looking at who it is addressed to. Often scammers don’t have your details, which is why the email won’t be addressed to you personally.
Scammers might have access to your email or username, but they probably don’t know your real name. Whereas, legitimate companies do have access to your name and thus use it in their emails to you.
Look out for emails that greet you using your email address, your username, or a generic greeting such as ‘dear sir’ or ‘dear madam’. These are most likely scams.
Email Fraud Examples
Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of online scams. They come in many different shapes and sizes and can be targeted at anyone. Have a look at these common fraud examples, so you know what to avoid.
Fraud Emails During a Crisis
COVID-19 is a scary time for all involved, the pandemic has spread around the world and is causing a lot of complications and problems. Unfortunately, some are taking this opportunity to take advantage of those who are vulnerable.
Uncertain times are when scammers and hackers thrive. So it is imperative that you are extra cautious during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about coronavirus phishing emails and how you can stay safe online, during unprecedented times. Remember that if you aren’t sure about the authenticity of the email to double-check with the reputable company if the email came from them.
You can also use the guidance from the World Health Organization on cybersecurity. The WHO state that ‘If you are contacted by a person or organization that appears to be from WHO, verify their authenticity before responding.’
Fraud Emails Claiming You’ve Won
Everyone likes to win things. But if you haven’t entered any competitions then it is highly unlikely that you haven’t won anything. What is more likely is that you’ve received a scam email.
If you think it might be a genuine thing that you’ve won, verify the authenticity of the email. Check that the email is from a genuine sender and that the company is legitimate. Contact the company without clicking on any of the information in the email.
Fraud Emails About Jobs
You can even receive fraud emails about job offers. So, how do you know if a job is a scam?
These scammers, who act as recruiters for the role, usually offer something that sounds too good to be true. For example, thousands of dollars for a role that would normally be paid less, or an excellent benefits package.
There are a number of ways you can protect yourself before replying to the email. Research the company and see what you can find out about them. You can also ask the recruiter for more information and references, so you can find out if it is fake or not.
Make Use of Our Guide on How to Tell If an Email Is Fake
Follow our guide on how to tell if an email is fake to ensure you avoid any scams. Staying safe online is important, so be sure you remain mindful about giving out your personal details and clicking on harmful links.
Before you go and read your emails, familiarize yourself with our 5 simple but effective ways to spot a scammer. If you still aren’t sure about whether an email is fake or not, contact the business and ask their customer services representative to help you. Remember you can help put a stop to cybercriminals by reporting any suspicious activity you come across online.
If you found this guide insightful, be sure to check out some of our other articles all about how to stay safe online and offline.