How to know they're a scam
Some scam emails are obvious. They're sent by the apparent Prince of Nigeria, or they are riddled with so many misspellings that you know they must be fraudulent. These scam emails are an annoyance, for sure, but they're also pretty easy to avoid.
Where the danger really lies is in scam emails that look legitimate. Even someone who grew up with the Internet could fall prey to these scams because they're so convincing. Here are some tip-offs that could indicate the email you're looking at is a scam—along with some best practices to help you avoid falling prey to email scammers.
Signs of Email Scams
These scam emails initially look convincing because they appear to come from a legitimate company—likely one you have established contact with—such as a delivery company, your bank, or an online retailer. They may prompt you to click a link and enter your personal information to verify your account or confirm your identity. What really happens is that the scammer then gathers any data you enter, which they can use to access your accounts or steal your identity. These email scams are known as phishing scams.
Here are some signs that an email is a phishing scam:
1. It does not address you personally.
True, legitimate emails sent to you by your bank or another reputable company will usually be addressed specifically to you. For example, an email from your bank may begin "Dear Joe Smith." Phishing scams, on the contrary, often begin with a vague greeting like "Dear valued customer." Treat any email with a vague greeting suspiciously.
2. It comes from a questionable email address.
Don't just look at the name of the entity that sent you the email. Look at the address it was actually sent from. Often, the name will show up as "UPS" or some other known company, but if you look at the actual email address, it will be something like "UPS.email@example.com." Legitimate companies have their own email domains. So, for example, an email coming from "customerservice@UPS.com" would likely be legitimate, whereas one coming from "UPScustomerservice@gmail.com" would not.
3. It asks for personal information.
Legitimate companies almost never contact you requesting information! They have your information. If they do need to verify anything, they will not request info by asking you to click on a link and go to their website; this is something only phishers do.
Avoiding Email Scams
So how do you make sure you do not fall prey to an email scam? For one, never click on a link in an email, even if it appears to come from a reputable company. It is best to instead go directly to the website (type the address in the search bar) rather than clicking on the link. This way, if you overlooked signs of a scam, you are still not opening yourself up to phishing.
If you are not sure whether an email is legitimate, call the company it appears to be coming from. They will tell you whether the email is really from them, or if it is a likely scam.
Finally, make sure your email inbox is set up to filter spam. This way, many scam emails will be filtered out before you even see them, reducing your chances of accidentally clicking on a link you shouldn't click on.
Email scammers have gotten better and better at camouflaging their efforts, but if you know what to look for, you can still avoid these scams. Stay safe out there in this world of convincing scams.