Learn How to Recognize Dangerous Emails & Texts
Fraudsters love our trusting nature, our hopefulness and even our desperation. They count on these human elements to get us to make a mistake. That's why they send so many fraudulent emails and text messages. They know if they send enough of them and hit on the right trigger, some of us will slip up and allow them in.
Don't worry, it's going to be OK. Knowing how to recognize the tell-tale signs of risky, malicious and fraudulent emails and texts will help you steer clear of these and protect your accounts, your systems and your information.
Why are these emails and texts dangerous?
Fraudulent and Malicious emails and texts are designed to do one of more of the following:
Let's start with the cardinal rule of email and text messages.
- Access your information. The information is sold to those who would use it for impersonation, accessing your accounts, etc
- Pretend to be you. Apply for credit in your name, take over your email, social and financial accounts
- Use your systems to commit further fraud
***When an email or text arrives and you wonder about its authenticity... DO NOT CLICK OR TAP ON ANY LINK and NEVER OPEN AN ATTACHMENT!***
Ask the following questions to help recognize possible bad emails and texts:
Who Do You Know?
It's all about who you know... or in the case of bad emails and texts, who you don't know. If you receive an message from someone you don't know, then it's probably unwanted and likely to be spam, phishing or malicious. You wouldn't open your front door for just anyone. Think of these messages the same way. Best to leave those emails and texts alone.
Common themes used in these messages are:
- You've won ... something
- You're due a large inheritance
- Free computer, free plane tickets, free anything
Sometimes, you may receive an email or text from someone you know, but something looks different from what you would normally expect. Perhaps it's just a single link in the message with little or no explanation. In these cases, you may find that someone you know has a compromised account or these may come from a spoofed email address.
Common themes used in messages supposedly from friends:
- You've got to try this!
- I was shocked with I found this out
- Quick! I need your help!
How do you know if it's valid?
- Did you sign up for the Sweepstakes? If you didn't sign up, you didn't win. Period.
- Inheritance claims are NEVER handled in email. NEVER.
- Free computer, phone, tickets? If it's an message from a company you've never heard of or had any dealings with, then it's bad news. Steer clear.
Where's the Fire?
Many bad emails and texts will create a sense of urgency, trying to make you feel like you have to act immediately. They do this to make you think you are in trouble for something, or that you will miss out on something big if you don't take action this very instant.
Common email and text themes used are:
- You're Infected or You've Been Hacked!
- You're in trouble with the IRS, Local Government, Etc for unpaid taxes, or whatever the claim
- You've won and you have to act now, because of limited time, slots, etc.
How do you know if it's valid?
There really aren't many situations in which you would find these to be valid, and if they were valid they would not be prompting you to click on a link. You can use the following tactics to analyze the emails and texts.
- Look at the sender: If it's an email, you can view the email address of the sender of the email. Trickier emails can spoof this information, but you may be surprised by the number that are not even close to an official address. For text messages, look at the number. Have you ever received anything from this phone number or SMS short code?
- Be Aware of Normal Practices: The IRS and government agencies will reach you by postal mail if they have a concern, particularly over sensitive matters. You may receive an confirmation of receipt or deposit, etc, but you should not receive a request to act on an urgent issue.
- Reach out to the company or agency separately from the email or text. Look up their number and call them or go through their official website (do not use a link in the email or text to do this).
Is There a Literal Warning Sign?
Any email service worth using has filtering built in to flag questionable emails. The filters find emails with characteristic associated with bad emails and gives them a warning sign and sends them to a folder called JUNK or SPAM. Occasionally, bad emails get past the filters and good emails get caught up, but you know if they're in the SPAM or JUNK folders, you should at least take caution.
Images in emails should be suppressed and links should be made non-functional. This allows you to view the subject lines and senders of emails in these folders safely to make sure valid emails don't get caught up in the filter. You can always move valid emails back to your regular inbox.
Is There Unwanted Baggage Attached?
Many malicious emails will still use a tactic of attaching a file to tempt you to open it. These attachments may pose as a document, image or form. For text messages they could come in the form of a multimedia message (MMS)They usually carry a virus or a script designed to gather information and/or take over your device.
How do you know if the attachment is safe?
If you're not expecting an attachment from someone, do not open it. You need to take caution even if you know the person sending you the email. If that person's account has been compromised an email attachment could be sent.
If you know the person, make sure you are expecting the attachment. If not, check with the person to make sure. Even when you know the person, it's still a good idea to run a security scan on the file just to be safe.
Does This Message Read Strangely?
While even the most carefully edited messages may contain some grammatical errors, valid emails typically have been reviewed for common errors and should read well. Many fraudulent emails are rife with errors and display poor mastery of the English language. Some are just laughably bad, Text messages are a bit different, as many people are used to the days when messages had to be really short.
When it comes to our friends, we may not expect fantastic grammar, but they probably have a style that you are used to reading. A red flag should go up if you receive a message that is supposedly from them but reads very differently than you expect.