Email spam filtering has improved in the last ten years, but every once in a while a piece of spam will end up in your inbox. Spammers and phishers have also grown smarter–gone are the days of Nigerian princes asking for your credit card information. Many spam emails look very professional, and some claim to be from your bank or another company you’ve done business with. This makes them particularly insidious. Here are some tips to know the difference between spam and regular email.
1. They Don’t Address You by Name
Spam emails are generated in bulk; the spammers are sending out as many as a hundred thousand emails per campaign, so many of them start with a generic statement like “Dear Customer.” This is one of the biggest red flags to look out for when trying to identify spam. Nine times out of ten, your bank or credit card company will use your name either in the salutation of the email or elsewhere throughout the message. Another tell-tale sign is that the sender will address you by your e-mail address instead of your name.
If you see an email from the Postal Service that begins “Dear USPS Customer,” you should most likely delete it.
2. Spelling and Grammar Mistakes
Clunky-sounding language is another of the biggest tip-offs that you’re dealing with spam. Grammar is different from language to language. English uses adjectives before nouns, whereas French and other languages do the opposite. If you notice several syntax errors in the email, chances are you’re dealing with a phishing attempt.
Obviously, anyone can make a grammatical error or phrase something awkwardly in an email. But if the sender purports to be a professional establishment like a bank or a government organization, they would employ a proofreader before sending out a poorly-worded email.
3. Weird Links and Attachments
While it isn’t rare for an email to contain a link, pay special attention to suspicious emails. If you hover over the link (remember, DON’T CLICK ON IT) the link address will appear in the bottom of your browser window. If the link looks suspicious (for example apple-customer-service.en/sjwie/xxx, or something similar) you’re probably dealing with spam.
If a phisher can’t trick you into clicking a phony link, they will often try to trick you into downloading malware files. Many scam emails try to trick you into thinking you owe somebody money and hope that your judgment will be compromised by the worry you feel. If you’ve already noticed some red flags, do not open any attachments.
Email is much safer to use than it was in the past. However, it’s still a popular method of attack for scammers. It pays to keep yourself informed of the latest email scams and to keep a cynical eye. Even if your email provider offers spam filtering, and you have efficient network security, your good judgment is still the last line of defense for your personal information and your computer’s health.