Basic tips on how to spot scam email
Before I start, let me just say there is no absolutely 100% sure way of detecting a scam email, because some can be incredibly sophisticated. The tips below are the tips I provided to my mum and other friends/family after Virgin Media announced a data breach affecting 900,000 customers.
I originally thought the first point should be about common sense, but that apparently doesn’t exist 😉 so I went for a more “X-Files” idea, Trust
No-one Nothing you see.
“Trust Nothing” is your best first defence for anything you do on the web or email. Always remain cautious and sceptical.
- If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Did you actually even enter the competition they are saying you won? Do you really think you can earn thousands from doing virtually nothing, who do you know who has?
- If something seems a bit fishy, it probably is. When you’re reading the email, did something make you re-read it? Did something not make sense? Companies spend a lot of time and effort making sure their emails are flawless, so if there is even the smallest typo or error, this should be a warning.
- If you haven’t heard from this person in a while and wasn’t expecting them to make contact, they probably didn’t. Did your old school mate who you haven’t seen for 30 years just email you? Did you get an email out of the blue from someone you think you might have known in a previous job? Chances are neither of these things are valid
- If this wasn’t something you’d think that person would send, then they probably didn’t. Did someone in your family just send you a link to download something “you must see”?
Highlighted example of how to spot scam email
The image below is of an email one of my readers received the day after the Virgin Media announcement was made. I have annotated it with red arrows to show the things that I spotted as tell-tale signs this was a scam.
Scam email warning signs:
1: By clicking the “Forward” button in the email client, the true email address of the email is revealed in the original message. It is clear in this instance that that email address has nothing to do with TV Licensing. This is a very lazy and poor attempt at trying to mask the email address, it is actually very easy to be more sophisticated than this and to actually make it look like it comes from something like “email@example.com” or something similar. The tip here is that if you want to be sure copy the bit after “@” and paste it into a Google search. Don’t try to visit the site directly because it could be a website that could harm your computer further. A Google search should show up if it is a genuine site or not. For example:
2: “TVLicence” is two words, not one. As mentioned above, if this was a genuine email then you should not expect this kind of mistake.
3a and 3b: The subject says payment couldn’t be taken by debit card, but they are asking you to set up a new direct debit. Also, the person who received this normally pays by direct debit, so there was no reason a debit card should have been used.
4: Another inconsistency. Firstly, the recipient wasn’t expecting any discount, and secondly, we would have expected “Reduction %20” to be presented as “Discount 20%”
Can you spot any others?
There is at least two more tell-tale sign that is present in this image. Please let me know in the comments below if you can spot them, or any others I might have missed.
As I mentioned above, this example is a pretty easy one to spot. Be vigilant and always be sceptical.
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