Spot a Fake Email

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Spot a Fake Email: a reader asks…

Is this email legit? I received an email from Amazon describing an order I supposedly made. I didn’t make that order! Should I call them or is this a fake email? If fake, what should I do?

It is most certainly a fake. Do not call the number, simply delete the email or mark it as Junk Mail/Spam. The proliferation of fake emails and scam attempts is so high, it’s overwhelming everyone, including law enforcement. As much as 80% of all email flying around the internet at any moment is fake. So reporting the fake email to the authorities is likely a waste of time. Your best bet is to improve your ability to spot fake/scam emails and then delete or mark as spam as they appear. Here’s what to look for:

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  1. Check the From line of the email, not just the name but the actual email address. Many times the From line will say one thing but the email address doesn’t match. In this case, it says “Amazon Update” but the email is from some random gmail address.
  2. Hover your cursor over the links inside the email. Many times the popup tip won’t match the link text.
  3. Fake/Scam emails will often put a phone number to call on the email. This is so scam-like that most legitimate businesses no longer provide a phone number in emails.

In addition to those top three, there are other indicators. Scammers are very creative at finding ways to fool you, and your best defense is a healthy dose of suspicion for any email you receive. Scammers will often include official-looking logos and sprinkle some legitimate links along with links to their scam sites, which are designed to look very close to the legitimate business. With very few exceptions, you shouldn’t click on any links in any email. If you want to visit the business’s website, you can open your web browser and type in a web address to visit the business, then navigate that website. That’s much safer than clicking a link that might take you someplace unsafe.

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Fake/scam emails will often be warnings of some kind that encourage you to take action. No legitimate (and intelligent) business entity in this day and age will use an email to warn you about something, unless you specifically signed up for something of that nature. For example, Malwarebytes (a popular anti-malware tool) has an email newsletter to which you can subscribe. For that matter, so do I, on this website. Unless you signed up to receive information of this nature, emails you receive are all “cold calls” that should be ignored. Delete or send them to your junk mail/spam folder.

You may also receive fake emails from scammers that look like delivery companies, online retailers, your own or other banking institutions, credit card companies, etc. And, not just emails, you can also receive fakes/scams via text message or phone call. Scammers are working hard to find new and creative ways to try to get you to do something that you shouldn’t do. Be suspicious of all incoming communications that you didn’t instigate or expect!

Scammers use psychology to try to get you to take action. That action can be giving them remote access to your computer, giving them your credit card or banking information, asking you to transfer money to another account, or simply drawing you into an extended conversation. Your simplest defense is to not respond. Don’t call the number, don’t reply to an email or click a link in the email, don’t give out any personal information, and don’t assume that the person on the other end is who they say they are.

This includes emails that look like they came from someone you know! The unfortunate fact is that email is inherently unsecure. It’s absurdly easy for someone to use a fake email address, or to fake a link. For example, here are two links – hover over each and you’ll see they each actually go to the other website:

  1. https://positek.net
  2. https://google.com

Email has been so thoroughly abused that many folks are abandoning it in favor of either other channels of communication, or just treating your email inbox the same as your physical mailbox – which also gets lots of junk mail. Personally, I don’t read most of the mail that arrives in my physical mailbox, and the same for my email inbox. I look at the email inbox listing of emails, and open only a small few that I think are worth looking at. That’s less than 20% of all emails I receive. the rest are deleted or sent to the spam folder.

Listen to a quick Digital Minute #301 of the skinny on how to spot a fake/scam email:


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