How do I spot an email phishing scam?

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How do I spot an email phishing scam?

A phishing scam is a message that tries to trick you into providing private information.

Any email that tries to scare you into doing something is suspicious. These can look very official.

Here are some examples of phishing email scams (click to display):

    Example #1
    Example #2
    Example #3

No reputable service will provide links within an email to enter sensitive personal information -- it's simply too easy for bad guys to reproduce.

Phishing emails often use official-looking logos and layouts and sometimes link to very real-looking forms. The people behind these scams are looking for passwords, banking information, Social Security number, mother's maiden name, date of birth and more. They can use this to steal your identity and assets or open credit card accounts in your name.

Typically phishing emails contain a link to click or a file to download. Don't click any links. Don't download any files!

When you think someone's trying to trick you, click Forward and forward it to us at this address: aol_phish@abuse.aol.com

Email scams are tough to weed out. Nevertheless, almost all of them contain clues that will help you figure out that these are scam emails. You just have to know what to look for.

Top 5 clues to spot an email scam:

1. Check the spelling
Scammers are notorious for their lack of basic spelling and grammar skills. Look out for misspelled words and incomplete or awkwardly written sentences in the email. An email that is supposedly from a reputable and well-known organization will not misspell the name of the organization. For example, one email scam aimed at Facebook users spelled the name of the site with a lowercase F ("facebook").

2. Check who signed it
An email from a legitimate business will always be signed with a person's name and contact information. If an email signs off with something vague, such as "Customer Support," be wary.

3. DOES THE EMAIL SCREAM AT YOU IN ALL CAPS or have lots of !!!!!! at the end?
Beware of emails that try to get your attention by using all capital letters, especially in the subject line, or that try to scare you with lots of exclamation marks. Using all caps has long been viewed as online shouting, which just isn't done. The authors of scam emails tend to write over-the-top and very emotional content. Also, keep an eye out for dire warnings, such as "Urgent!" or "Danger!"

4. The email has an executable attachment
Never download an attachment unless you are sure it's legitimate. A favorite ploy of scammers is to send emails that look like someone you know sent it to you. Don't be fooled by the sender's name. Always verify that the attached file does not contain a virus. You can do this by running a scan or checking with the sender whether it is a legitimate email.

5. The email has a link to a Web site
As more people now know that they shouldn't download attachments from strangers, scammers have become smarter. Instead of attaching a file, they include a clickable link to a Web site, where you might be asked to provide personal information. For example, you might receive an email that appears to be from your bank offering you a very low interest rate on a mortgage or home equity loan. If you click on the link, it could ask your name, bank account number and online banking password to get onto the site. Don't ever provide this information if you have reached the site by clicking a link in an email.

One final word of advice: Never, ever respond to a spam email. By doing so, you confirm that your email account is active, and you'll likely be flooded with more spam.

Check out our other help articles if you feel that you have been a victim of a phishing email, would like to report suspicious emails or would like more information about phishing and scam emails or links.


Related Articles:


Tips for protecting your privacy online
Beware of the latest email scam: Vishing

About this article:
Last updated: 06-19-2014
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