Avoiding Phishing Attacks: How to Spot a Fake Link in Your Email Inbox

If you don't want to be the next victim of a phishing attack, learn how to spot a fake link in your email inbox by clicking here.

Avoiding Phishing Attacks: How to Spot a Fake Link in Your Email Inbox

The World Wide Web puts information at our fingertips. But in the process, it can also expose our most sensitive data to would-be hackers. As much as 36% of all data breaches in the U.S. are the result of phishing attacks through illegitimate email links.

These hacking methods incorporate a fake link into an email under the guise of a real sender to dupe users into clicking on it and entering their personal information. This could include financial and identity data like bank accounts and social security numbers.

Once this information falls into the wrong hands, it can be a lengthy and expensive process trying to combat fraud and identity theft. It's important to identify these fake links and protect yourself from these scams. To learn more about ways to spot a fake link in your email inbox, keep reading below.

Verify the Sender's Email Address

One of the simplest ways to check if your email has a fake link is by verifying the sender's email address. A phishing email may go as far as trying to copy a legitimate business' logos and other data to appear genuine. But a quick look at the sender's email may reveal certain discrepancies right off the bat.

For example, PayPal emails are a prevalent way to disguise a phishing link since 75% of Americans are active PayPal users. A PayPal email may inform an email recipient that they need to validate or confirm certain information by clicking on a link.

PayPal's real email address is "service@paypal.com" but a suspicious email may have an almost copycat email with a slight variation like "service@paypa1.com". If you notice any of these variations to the sender's email address, it is likely a phishing attack.

Examine the Email Greeting

A legitimate email from a reputable company you have signed up with will often address you by name or specific username. These details are important to prevent you from clicking on a fake link. A real organization like your bank would address you in emails by your full legal name to show their credibility.

A phishing email will often address you more generically. They may use a greeting such as "Dear Valued Customer" or "Dear User" since they don't have access to your specific user information. They may also use generic salutations like "Dear Sir or Madam" which are clear indicators that they don't actually know you.

Look for Spelling and Grammatical Errors

A suspicious email may look real at first glance, but spelling and grammatical errors can be a dead giveaway that your email is harboring a fake link. Sometimes, these spelling and grammar errors are more subtle and harder to find. On the other hand, though, they could be hiding in plain sight right in the email's subject line.

A phishing email may use the wrong verb form like "your" instead of "you're" in an email subject line informing you of winning a prize or a sweepstakes. It may also be misspelled as "yur" or have improper punctuation like "your'e", indicating a scam. So, if you see a subject line that says "Yur a winner", you probably aren't.

Scrutinize Email Formatting

Emails from legitimate organizations make every effort to maintain a professional appearance. This means following proper formatting, consistent text sizes, colors, and font styles. A phishing email, however, will often have bright colors, large text, and bold formatting for emphasis to get users to click a fake link.

A suspicious email may contain a flashing or animated phishing link to entice the recipient to visit a website, enter their information, or claim a prize. You should also avoid emails with cutesy spelling like "pRiZE wInNeR" or "aCtiOn rEQuIReD" as this is a clear sign of fraud. Clear out emails like this as soon as possible.

Illegitimate email links are often disguised as real ones. This is a simple trick that involves creating a hyperlink with the designated dialogue, while the fake link itself will lead to a false page that will infect your device with malware, keystroke loggers, and other threats.

Don't automatically click on a suspicious email link even if it appears to be the real deal. According to Cloudflare's Phishing Threats report, a phishing attack impersonates a well-known global brand 51.7% of the time. Microsoft is number one, followed by the World Health Organization, Google, SpaceX, Salesforce, and Apple.

You can see where the fake link will lead you without clicking it. Simply hover your browser's cursor over the link. You will see the true website address usually displayed in the bottom left corner of the browser window or floating directly above the fake link.

Confirm the Email's Content

A phishing attack's main goal is to lure you under false pretenses. A legitimate email would not conduct business through an email link. Rather they would have you log into your account or receive messages through a secure mailbox.

If you get an email that appears to be from your financial institution regarding your accounts, don't click on the potentially fake link within the email to lead you there. Instead, go directly to your financial institution's website itself and log in with your credentials there.

Clarify with the Sender

An email that comes from your bank or credit card company may come from a confirmed sender that handles your account. However, it is important to know that a seasoned email phisher can easily use this information from the company itself to establish credibility. They may take the name "Phyllis Fisher- Account Director" from the website and pose as this person in the email.

Instead of replying to the Phyllis Fisher address in the email or clicking a fake link, go to your organization's website and contact the Phyllis Fisher listed there. Ask them if it really is them sending you the email before you give out any personal info in the email.

It's better to be safe than sorry by confirming the email content directly with your bank or credit card company. You may also have the option to report any potential phishing email scams and unwanted emailsto the organization itself so that they are aware of these illegitimate email links.

Analyze the Email Signature

A real email will contain an email signature with the company's name and information like their physical mailing address and website. It may also have the name of a specific department and the name of a person you can contact if you have any further questions, along with their phone number and a designated email address.

A phishing email may not contain an email signature at all. If it does contain information like a phone number or mailing address, a reverse Google search can often turn up whether this information is falsified.

Be Skeptical of Unsolicited Emails

Filtering out spam emails seems like an unending task. Receiving emails from an unknown or unwanted source can be an automatic red flag. If you haven't signed up to receive emails from a specific source, then chances are these unsolicited emails are probably a phishing attack.

Responding to the email or interacting with it any further may trigger a chain of more emails to be sent from the same address automatically. It's best to block the email sender altogether or report it as a phishing email. This will help train your email provider to identify what emails are wanted in the future and which ones aren't.

Check for Simulated Urgency

Phishing attacks create a false sense of urgency to get recipients to open emails and click on a fake link. They may state that your account will be closed or frozen if you don't act immediately to remedy an issue. This panic can cause unsuspecting recipients to click on a phishing link without thinking first.

In reality, if there was a genuine issue with an account in question, a reputable organization would give you time to resolve these issues. They would also issue several warnings accompanied by phone calls and physical letters mailed to your home address. Don't be fooled by falsely labeled urgent email warnings and threats.

Ensure HTTPS Connections

If you do inadvertently click on a possible fake link and end up on a website, you need to verify that it's a secure connection. Legitimate websites use HTTPS for secure connections. Look up in the address bar of your browser to confirm this.

If the website address lacks the "s" in "https://" or shows a warning about being on a page with an unsecured connection, it could be a phishing site. Try to close the browser tab as quickly as possible, and don't proceed forward or enter any personal information.

Don't Trust Pop-Up Forms

Pop-up forms in emails can be a major red flag as well. A credible agency or organization will not ask for sensitive data to be entered into a pop-up form. This is a tactic used by data phishers to get you to divulge your information as soon as you open the email or the fake link.

Entering data into a pop-up form can subject you to spam tactics like email subscription bombs. This is where your email inbox can quickly become flooded by thousands of spam emails that can prevent you from seeing important data.

A pop-up form is less secure and lacks traditional verification methods. It mimics a legitimate request for personal data, but it can execute malicious code or redirect the user to multiple phishing websites.

Educate Yourself on Phishing Email Attacks

A study conducted by Stanford University called The Psychology of Human Error found that as much as 88% of data breaches are, in fact, the result of human error. It can seem like an innocent mistake clicking on a fake link, but it can cost you dearly in the long run.

Phishing scams are getting more and more elaborate in their attempts to get email recipients to click on a fake link. The quest to harvest data, unleash malware, and obtain private information is growing more complex all the time.

Some attempts to include a phishing link or disguise an email as legitimate are downright laughable. But new schemes are making it difficult for even the most well-trained individuals to spot a fake link.

With technology advancements also comes the opportunity to better disguise illegitimate email links. AI tools like ChatGPT are now being used to craft more convincing-looking professional emails. These AI-written emails can mimic the format of business emails and they can be churned out at record speed and variation.

Credential phishing has seen a 967% increase since the end of 2022 alone. It's vital to educate yourself on the latest threats and stay updated on these new tactics. Staying one step ahead of phishing attacks can help you have peace of mind when you're online.

Use Mailstrom Email Cleaner

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Mailstrom empowers your human intelligence. You determine what matters, and Mailstrom efficiently takes care of the rest.

Take Back Your Email Inbox from Spam and Phishing Emails with Mailstrom Today

You can find almost anything online these days, but your personal information shouldn't be part of this. Clicking a fake link can quickly upend your email inbox and your private data. Protecting yourself from spam and scam emails is a top priority.

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