Scammers on the internet want to get as close to you as possible. After all, this is how they get their hands into your pockets. Phishing scam emails are a particularly common way for cybercriminals to contact you.
In 2019, people like you lost $57 million to phishing scams, according to the FBI‘s Internet Crime Complaint Center. With so much money to be made, scammers are not going to stop anytime soon.
One of the simplest ways to entice a victim is through their email inbox, so you should investigate the warning signs of a scam before you lose any money.
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There are obvious red flags, such as spelling errors or hovering your mouse over a link to see if it redirects you to a shady site, but scam email techniques are becoming more sophisticated by the day. One scam even flips the script and tricks you into calling scammers.
Here are five red flags that can help you identify scam emails.
1. The email isn’t addressed to you
Because this is a minor detail, you may overlook it. Always check the sender when dealing with a suspicious email. It could be addressed to an email address you don’t even own!
For instance, I received a bogus UPS email addressed to [email protected] Here’s the catch: I don’t use that email address. Take a look:
Because I wasn’t the primary recipient — and I wasn’t Cc’d — there could only be one conclusion. The sender used my actual email address in the Bcc field, which alerted me to the fact that this was a scam.
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This is due to the fact that people who have been Bcc’d cannot see who else received the email. Simply put, a scammer can enter dozens of emails into the Bcc field and the recipients will be unaffected.
2. Someone sends you an email, but it doesn’t sound like them
The tone is difficult to discern over text, but after exchanging enough emails and texts with a coworker, you begin to understand their typing style. Perhaps they never use periods, or they prefer to message you with emojis. Everyone, in any case, has their own writing style.
That’s why a sudden shift in tone should be taken seriously. Perhaps someone who is always informal and silly sends an email with the subject “Please respond immediately.” If they’ve never said anything like that before, it could be because someone is impersonating them.
Look for signs of impending doom to identify these schemes. Is the email attempting to stress you out by implying that there is a time limit? Is it pleading for immediate action?
3. Be suspicious of any email that includes an attachment.
It’s not uncommon for a coworker to send you an email that includes a document, picture, or PDF attachment. However, they almost always send it after a previous conversation. Perhaps you had a video call with them and they said, “I’ll send that to you.”
But be wary if a coworker sends you an email with an attachment out of the blue. This could indicate that a criminal has stolen their identity.
These dangerous attachments are frequently given innocent file names by cybercriminals. A PDF, for example, maybe labeled “Invoice,” “Receipt,” or “Spreadsheet” and may cause your computer to crash if you open it. Hackers want to disguise dangerous files as documents you would expect to receive from colleagues.
4. A company requests info from you via email
You receive an email from Netflix, Amazon, or another company with which you have an account. It claims to have detected some suspicious activity, such as multiple login attempts or a problem with your payment information. It may even claim that you are entitled to a refund or a relief payment.
Everything appears to be normal: There is a professional header, and there are no grammatical or punctuation errors. So when it asks you to respond to confirm your payment details, you may believe nothing is wrong. Not so quickly.
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If this email were genuine, it would direct you to the company’s website. It would not request an email response. At large corporations, no one monitors account inboxes unless you’re in a help queue that you requested.
5. Did you win a contest you didn’t enter? It’s probably a scam
You’ve heard the expression, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” It’s unusual enough to win a contest that you actually entered. What are the chances of winning something you didn’t even sign up for?
Scammers know that the promise of a prize is enough to get your heart racing, and they make their living through emotional manipulation. So, if you receive an email claiming to have won an iPad, a car, or any other prize, it’s most likely a blatant lie.
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