Users of email applications are often advised not to click on images or links in a suspicious email message, but how do you determine if an email is suspicious? The following suggestions will help you decide if a message is good or bad.
The first thing is to know the sender, and not just by their name and email address, as email accounts are often spoofed or hacked. Pay close attention for obvious clues that your friend or co-worker did not send that message. A sure tip-off is your name; if you are usually called “Bill” by your friends, and the message starts with “William”, that’s usually an indication the message may be suspicious. Before clicking anything in that message, contact the sender to verify they indeed sent the message. Contacting the person has the added benefit of warning them that their computer is infected or their account has been compromised, if that is the case.
Knowing how a person talks will also give clues to the authenticity of a message. Learn how a person usually composes their messages, and look for any changes to that style. For example, if a person usually speaks in complete sentences and writes out entire words, then a message from that person in short sentences with either misspelled words or text message style shorthand can indicate a problem. Pay attention to the syntax in the message as well, to see if the sentence structure is odd or conveys incomplete thoughts. Most people tend to write messages the same way, and any deviation from that is cause for concern.
Phishing scams often involve messages that appear to come from legitimate sources such as financial institutions. It helps to know what companies you have accounts with, and any message that arrives from an institution you don’t do business with should raise concern. If the email appears to be from a legitimate source, you should still be cautious of any links or requests for personal information in the message. It’s relatively easy for a hacker to craft a website that looks exactly like the legitimate site it represents, and if you are not careful you can wind up providing personal information to the wrong site. In these cases, it’s best to type the URL of the legitimate site into a web browser or use a known good bookmark, go to the site directly and find out if the request is valid.
Email continues to be one of the most used avenues to infect a computer or gain personal information. Take the time to know the sender, and how they normally compose a message, to help prevent your becoming a victim.