How to spot a scam/phishing email

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It’s kind of hard to believe, but a LOT of people are still falling victim to scam emails, also known as phishing emails.  When “phishing” is spelled that way, it just means that there is a scammer looking to grab some personal information in order to steal your identity and your money.

scam alert

There are often some telltale signs that an email is nothing more than a scam.  Here are a few:

Misspelled words – since a lot of scams originate outside the US (commonly in Nigeria or Russia), the creator might not know English very well.  So misspellings and bad grammar are often seen.  Not something you normally see in an email that’s actually from your bank.

Wrong web addresses – this one can be very tricky, because the scammers have gotten very clever about it.  When an email directs you to a website, it’s easy to disguise the actual address of that site.  For example, you might think you are looking at “” but it’s really not the bank’s site at all.  Look at this address:

At first glance, it looks like the Bank of America website.  But the only name that really counts is the last one just before the last “dot com”.  Everything prior to that is meant to be a distraction.  So that website is actually and has nothing to do with any bank.

Requests for information – if an email, or a website that came from an email, asks you for your credit card number, checking account number, PIN, Social Security number, or any other personal identity information, it’s a scam.  Your bank or Paypal would never ask for that information.  But a scammer sure would!

Attachments in .ZIP format – if an email attachment comes in .zip format, your antivirus program probably won’t spot it.  You shouldn’t open email attachments anyway, but again, this one tricks a lot of people.

What happens is this:  you get an email from UPS or Fedex (not really from them of course) and it says something to this effect: “We tried delivering your package today but were unable to deliver it.  Please see the attached report for information on how to pick up your package.”  This is so clever!  It works a lot of the time, because the recipient just happens to actually be expecting a package, so the email seems completely natural.  They open the attachment, and suddenly their computer is infected with a virus or spyware.

To help illustrate this, I made a short video pointing out some of the “red flags” in a phishing email I received recently.  For best viewing, click on the “Full Screen” icon in the lower right corner of the video.

Have you received any clever or tricky phishing emails?  Tell us your experience in the comments below:


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sherri varrieur
May 7th, 2012

Love the video Scott! i think most people are visual,they learn quicker that way.I think with the written word it takes them longer to comprehend. 🙂

glyn unt
May 7th, 2012

Hi Scott:

I agree with Sherri completely. Good addition!

One comment you made was “Attachments in .ZIP format – … it. You shouldn’t open email attachments anyway,…”

Attachments are common place for business and personal use. Did I misunderstand?

Scott Johnson
May 7th, 2012

I probably should have phrased it differently – you shouldn’t open attachments unless you actually know what it is ahead of time. And, if the only way you know what the attachment contains is based on the text in the email itself, you don’t really know what it contains.

Fred Belfitt
May 7th, 2012

Scott, You have a good way with your videos to illustrate some of the evils inside emails. I look forward to all your content …. it is not too complicated.

J. Richard Williams, Esq.
May 7th, 2012

Thank you for your Free Tutorials, and the very necessary Computer Articulate Language, which you employ to spell out the correct approach to the solution oriented PC process – please keep up the excellent work! JRW

mando Aldrovandi
May 10th, 2012

Your postings are of a great help and as learning tools. Many thanks.