Phishing emails are those that try to trick users into providing personal information, whether by simply returning the email or by clicking through to fake site that closely mimics the one used by a trusted company. User names, passwords, and banking details are all common pieces of information that might be used to steal your identity, empty your bank accounts, or gain access to your online accounts.
Luckily, there are three main warning signs that even the most casual of web users can use to identify phishing emails and prevent their success.
1. Links Don't Match Up
Most phishing emails will contain a link to their fraudulent website, and these can be difficult to spot. This is because the link will appear perfectly genuine – for example, you might find a clickable link that reads 'www.facebook.com'.
Many internet users think that this text must reflect the actual web address that you're being sent to, but it does not. The 'Facebook link' described above could be made to link to any other website. If there is a link that appeals genuine, try hovering your mouse over it. The real link address should come up. If it doesn't match, consider that a strong red flag.
2. Requests for Personal Information
Some unsophisticated phishing emails are very easy to spot, but others will look almost exactly like official emails. However, reputable companies will not send you emails asking for your password, just as banks won't email you asking for an account number. Remember, they already have this information on their own databases!
Requests for personal information are a clear warning sign, especially when the request is accompanied by some kind of warning. For example, you might be told that your bank account will be suspended if you don't provide your information. If in doubt, just contact the official organisation directly.
3. The Spelling, Grammar, or Tone Are Off
Large companies will painstakingly check each piece of correspondence to make sure that the spelling and grammar are perfect. Fortunately, not many phishers do the same. Any emails described as coming from large organisations that still contain mistakes are likely to be fraudulent.
Harder to gauge, but still important, is the tone of the email. Large companies work hard to achieve a consistent tone throughout their correspondence. If an email is grammatically correct and perfectly proofed, yet still seems a little off compared to previous messages, it might be a phishing email.
Phishing emails can be crafted very deceptively – that's why they're often so successful. However, knowing the warning signs above should keep you protected. Such emails can also contain viruses and other malicious programs, so it's always a good idea to have your device looked at if you have recently opened one, even if you didn't provide any information. If you suspect your computer has been compromised, contact a computer repair company.