Phishing Email Examples: How to Recognize a Phishing Email

By on Sep 15, 2020

Phishing Email Examples: How to Recognize a Phishing Email

Keeping your identity safe on the internet can be challenging. Phishing is a scam that tricks you into voluntarily providing important personal information. Protect yourself from phishing by reviewing some examples of phishing emails and learning more about this common online scam.

What is phishing?

Phishing is a type of cybercrime that steals your sensitive information. To trick you into willingly providing information like your website logins and credit card numbers, phishing scammers disguise themselves as major corporations or other trustworthy entities. Phishing scammers will usually contact you via text or email.

What is a phishing email?

A phishing email is a fraudulent email message that is made to look like it was sent by a legitimate company. These emails contain messages that ask you to provide sensitive personal information in various ways. If you don’t look carefully at the emails you receive, you might not be able to tell the difference between a normal email and a phishing email. Scammers work hard to make phishing emails resemble emails sent by trusted companies as closely as possible, which is why you need to be cautious when you open emails and click the links they contain.

How do you spot a phishing email?

Phishing scammers often undo their own plans by making simple mistakes that are easy to spot once you know how to recognize them. Check for the following signs of phishing every time you open an email:

It’s poorly written

Phishing emails often contain grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and other telltale signs that they weren’t written by marketing departments at major corporations. Even the biggest companies sometimes make small errors in their emails, but if you see multiple, glaring grammatical errors in an email that asks for your personal information, you might have become the target of a phishing scammer.

The logo doesn’t look right

To enhance the credibility of their emails, phishing scammers often steal the logos of prominent corporations or websites. In many cases, however, they don’t steal corporate logos correctly. The logo in a phishing email might have the wrong aspect ratio, or it might be low-resolution. If you have to squint to make out the logo in an email message, chances are that it’s a phishing email.

The URL doesn’t match

Phishing emails always center around links that you’re supposed to click. There are a few ways to check whether a link you’ve been emailed is legitimate. With some email clients, just hovering over the link will be enough to display its URL. Alternatively, you can right-click the link, copy it, and paste the URL into a word processor. On mobile devices, you can check the URL of a link by pressing and holding it with your finger. If the URL you discover doesn’t match up with the entity that supposedly sent you the email, you might have received a phishing email.

Types of phishing emails

Phishing emails come in all shapes and sizes, but there are a few types of phishing emails that are more common than others. Let’s review some examples of the most frequently sent phishing emails:

Account suspended scam

Some phishing emails appear to notify you that your bank account has been temporarily suspended due to unusual activity. If you receive an account suspension email from a bank that you haven’t opened an account with, delete it immediately, and don’t look back. Suspended account phishing emails from banks you do business with, however, are harder to spot. Use the methods we listed above to check the veracity of the email, and if all else fails, contact your bank directly instead of opening any links within the email you received.

Two-factor authentication scam

Two-factor authentication (2FA) has become common, so you’re probably used to receiving emails that ask you to confirm your login information with six-digit numerical codes. Phishing scammers also know how common 2FA has become, and this service that’s supposed to protect your identity might be used for nefarious purposes. If you receive an email asking you to log into an account to confirm your identity, use the criteria we listed above to verify the authenticity of the message. Be especially wary if you’re asked to provide 2FA for an account you haven’t accessed for a while.

Tax refund scam

Everyone likes getting money from the government. That’s what phishing scammers are counting on when they send you phony IRS refund emails. You should always be careful when an email informs you that you’ve received a windfall of cash, and be especially dubious of emails that were supposedly sent by the IRS since this government agency only contacts taxpayers via snail mail. Tax refund phishing scams can do serious harm since they usually ask for your social security number as well as your bank account information.

Phishing at work

You need to be wary of phishing when you’re using your work email as well. One popular phishing scam involves emails that are designed to look like they were sent by someone in the C-suite of your company. They ask workers to wire funds to supposed clients, but this cash actually goes to scammers. Use the tips we listed above to spot these phony emails.

What happens if you click a link in a phishing email?

Never click links in suspicious emails. If you do click a link in an email you suspect was sent by a phishing scammer, however, you will be taken to a web page with a form where you can enter sensitive data such as your social security number, credit card information, or login credentials. Do not enter any data on this page.

What do you do if you suspect you’ve been phished?

If you accidentally enter data in a webpage linked to a suspicious email, disconnect your device from the internet. Next, perform a full malware scan on your device. Once the scan is complete, backup all of your files, and change your passwords. Even if you only provided a phishing scammer with the data from one account, you may have also opened the door to other personal data, so it’s important to change all the passwords you use online in the wake of a suspected phishing attack.

How to recognize a phishing email: simple tips

Let’s wrap things up with some summarized tips on how to avoid phishing emails:

  • When in doubt, directly contact the organization that supposedly emailed you instead of opening links included in suspicious emails.
  • Examine suspicious emails carefully to check for telltale signs of phishing such as poor grammar, grainy logos, or bogus links.
  • If you accidentally click a phishing link, don’t enter any data, and close the page.
  • If you think you’ve been phished, run a virus scan, backup your files, and change all your passwords.

Stay protected

Phishing emails only work on the unwary. Now that you know how to spot phishing emails and what to do if you suspect you’ve been phished, you won’t fall for this type of scam. Just remember to always be careful with your personal information when you use the internet, and err on the side of caution whenever anybody asks you to divulge sensitive details about your identity, your finances, or your login information.

About the Author

McAfee

McAfee is the device-to-cloud cybersecurity company. Inspired by the power of working together, McAfee creates business and consumer solutions that make our world a safer place. Take a look at our latest blogs.

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