How to tell if an e-mail is a scam

Updated: 08/31/2020 by Computer Hope

E-mails come in many forms, and it sometimes can be difficult to tell the difference between a legitimate message and a scam. Here are some of the most common indicators that an e-mail you received is fraudulent.

Incomplete/misspelled words

One of the indications of a scam e-mail is poor spelling, grammar, or punctuation. E-mails coming from professional organizations and companies are less likely to contain any of these mistakes. Scam e-mails, on the other hand, are often written by individuals who may not have strong spelling or grammatical skills, or are writing in a rushed fashion. If you receive an e-mail that appears to be legitimate, but has many spelling or grammar mistakes, it should be deleted.

Requires immediate action

If the e-mail requires immediate action, a good practice is to call the company directly and inquire whether or not the message is legitimate. The customer service department should be able to look up your account and determine if any action is required, especially action related to the e-mail you received.

Request to enter personal information

Some e-mails are designed to capture, or steal, a user's login credentials for a particular website. These e-mails often include a request for a user to submit some sort of personal information or login credentials via e-mail or a link provided in the e-mail. If an e-mail you receive asks for any of this information, be wary as it may be a phishing (scam).

Tip

Most legitimate businesses ask you to visit their site and log in to your account, rather than requesting the information by e-mail.

Addressed to a username

Writers of fraudulent e-mail have varying degrees of information about the recipient, sometimes none aside from their e-mail address and username. Legitimate companies generally start an e-mail by addressing the recipient by their full name. Many times point of a scam e-mails is to gain personal information about the user, so it may use something more generic, like "Dear Sir" or "Dear Madam."

Tip

Any e-mail that does not give specifics is one sign of a phishing e-mail.

Note

Some malicious users may research their target and get a lot of details about them to help make an e-mail seem more legitimate. These types of attacks are referred to as spear phishing.

Check the web page link

One of the most commonly used tools of scammers is a web page link. A deceptive e-mail may contain a link to a bogus website that they'll use to capture whatever you type on that web page, allow them access to your account or information. To combat this, you can check the link in your e-mail before clicking it.

One way to inspect a link is to place your mouse cursor over the link, but refrain from clicking it. At the bottom of your e-mail program or browser in the status bar, you see the actual website address. Inspection of the link should indicate whether or not the link is to the company's actual website.

Email link address

You can also right-click the link in the e-mail, and choose "Copy link address," "Copy Link Location," or a similar option in the pop-up menu. Then, paste that link in a program, like TextPad or Microsoft Word. Copying the link allows you to view the entire address for that link. Compare that link to the company's real website address and verify if they match or not.

If you feel the e-mail you received is a scam, do not attempt to click any links in that e-mail. It may attempt to send you to a fraudulent website or contain spyware, which could be designed to capture and steal information from your computer.