How to Determine If an Email is a Phishing Attempt (and What to Do With It)

How to Determine If an Email is a Phishing Attempt (and What to Do With It)

No matter how many years technology advances, phishing remains one of the most dangerous threats to network security. While phishing tactics have become more sophisticated, the main premise remains the same, to fool someone into taking an action.

Scammers take advantage of every tactic they can to trick people into clicking on links to malicious sites that download malware or enter sensitive information into a fake form. 

Lately, hackers have been working overtime to take advantage of the global coronavirus pandemic with a whole new slew of scams.

During the first three weeks of March 2020, phishing attacks increased 667%.

No matter what the scam is, the best form of defense is user awareness. This means knowing how to spot a phishing email and what to do if you think you received something suspicious.

Just looking for gross misspellings or blurry images isn’t enough anymore when it comes to spotting phishing, because scammers have become much more sophisticated over the years.

They often copy the logos and signatures of legitimate companies that make them nearly indistinguishable at first glance from the real thing.

However, there are still several telltale signs you can look for to reveal a phishing scam in your inbox.

Tips for Identifying Phishing Emails

Last year, 88% of organizations faced a spear phishing attack and 65% of U.S. organizations became a phishing victim. That means that someone at their company was fooled by a phishing scam.

Here are several ways to identify a phishing email and avoid becoming the next victim.

Hover Over (Don’t Click) Links

Most phishing emails use a URL rather than a file attachment. This helps them skirt past certain antivirus programs because the email technically doesn’t contain malware.

What it does do is link to a malicious site that can:

  • Cause malware to download on your device as soon as you visit it
  • Lead to you to a fake webform designed to steal sensitive info

Often those URLs are designed to hide the real link. For example, it might say www.amazon.com/salesdeals, but the URL might really go to a completely different site.

Links can also be hidden by text, like “click here” or a button that won’t show the URL unless you hover over it. (see the image below)

Hovering instead of clicking can quickly reveal a phishing scam.

Look at the “From” Email Carefully

Phishing scammers will often try to spoof a legitimate email address or will use an address from a “look-alike” domain. For example, they might use “gatesfoundatoin.com” hoping people will overlook the slight misspelling (did you see it?). 

You can view the source code of the email message or the email header code to find the origination email address. When it doesn’t match the text that shows in the “from” line, that’s a sign it’s a phishing email.

If It Uses Urgency or Fear

Phishing scammers play on human emotions. They’ll often use fear and urgency to get users to click before they can properly evaluate an email.

One common phishing tactic used in many campaigns is, “Your account will be deleted unless you take action now!” This is done for email accounts, bank accounts, and any others that you definitely don’t want to have deleted.

If an email uses any of these emotional tactics to get you to act quickly, take a step back and ask yourself why? Is this email expected? Do I know the sender?

Remove yourself from the emotional response and start questioning that email.

The Email is Unexpected

Nearly all phishing emails are going to be unexpected. This is the case whether it’s from a friend’s hacked account and just says, “I thought you’d like to see this” or is a purported purchase order from a company you’ve never heard of.

Question every email you get that is unexpected, even if it’s from someone you know. When an email comes out of the blue and seems a little “off” or strange, don’t automatically assume it’s legitimate, do the opposite, and look at it as phishing, until you find out otherwise.

What to Do If You Get a Phishing Email

If you get a phishing email or an email that you suspect might be phishing, here are some steps to take to handle it safely.

Do Not Click Any Links or Attachments

Just looking at the email in your email program is safe, but do not click any links or open any file attachments.

Check With the “Sender” if You Know Them

One of the COVID-19 phishing scams going around is an email from the “HR Department” of the recipient’s company with a “new company policy” to read. 

Check with the sender by phone or in person (not by email) to confirm the legitimacy of an email you receive from someone you know but that is unexpected.

Report the Email

If you’ve received the email on your work account, follow your company procedures for reporting the phishing email to them or your IT provider.

Other places you can report phishing emails are:

  • Your email service provider
  • A government body (Like the FBI IC3
  • The organization the email is pretending to be from

Delete the Email

Once you’ve reported the email and, if required, forwarded it to your company’s IT department or IT partner, you can delete it. Make sure to empty your deleted items folder to completely remove it.

Worried That You’ve Clicked a Phishing Link?

If you’re worried that you may have clicked a phishing link, you can contact B-Comp Services for a full system scan to ensure your system hasn’t been compromised.

Contact us for a free consultation today at 303-282-4934 or through our contact form.