Not all email is the same. Five ways to identify if an email is a scam

Key Takeaways

  • Cybercriminal attacks are on the rise, and they are becoming more sophisticated in the ways they try to get your personal information from you.
  • Spear phishing is a technique used by cybercriminals to “bait” you in the form of an e-mail to get you to give you their information directly or indirectly.
  • There are five common types of spear phishing e-mails to look out for, but ultimately, if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

The famous bank robber, Willie Sutton, when asked, “Why do you rob banks?” said, “Because that’s where the money is.” That was years ago. Today, it’s in the zeros and ones flying through the air to the Cloud, and the Internet, and so forth. And that’s where the cybercriminals hang out. All they are trying to do is get your personal information.

There are a couple of different techniques cybercriminals use to capture your information, but one of the ways I am going to focus on is called “spear phishing.” It sounds like what it is. They put bait out there in the form of e-mails to try to get you to either open up an attachment and/or provide them with your information. Either way, they will try to obtain your information directly, or indirectly. There are five ways they do this that you can watch out for:

  1. Spelling mistakes and poor grammar. It’s a dead giveaway when you see that. Especially if the e-mail is supposedly coming from a major company, you just wouldn’t see that if it was a legitimate e-mail from that company.
  1. Vague salutation and incomplete signature. Again, a large institution is not going to say “Valued customer” or some other generic greeting. They are going to give you their full information in a signature block, not leave out lots of important details.
  1. Spoofed headers and display names. You know where it says “To” and “From”, maybe a friend’s name is in there instead, or it’s from a domain name that’s not the same name as the company you’re dealing with. These are a little trickier to catch, but many times those are spoofed to try to get you to act and give them information.
  1. Urgent or threatening language. Legitimate institutions are not going to threaten or make things urgent for you in an e-mail. If someone is using this kind of language, it’s a good sign a cybercriminal is out there.
  1. It reads or feels suspicious. These phishing e-mails are getting really good, so you need to trust your gut when something doesn’t feel right. It probably isn’t.

The bottom line

Don’t respond to these e-mails. Definitely don’t open up any attachments, that’s how they put malware on your computer to pull information without you knowing about it. If you are at work and receive a suspicious e-mail, report it to your IT department so they can handle it for you and make sure you aren’t compromised.

Until next time, enjoy!


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Inertia, often caused by being overwhelmed, keeps smart people from planning.  TransformingWealth™ , Coyle’s proprietary approach, is designed to get your arms around the big picture so you can make informed financial decisions Take the first step to living the Good Life Managed Well™, and schedule a complimentary TransformingWealth Preview Meeting.

Gary Klaben is in our Glenview, IL office and serves our clients who are now located all over the country.  He has over 30 years of experience and is the author of Changing the Conversation, The Wealth Sanctuary and co-author of The Business BattlefieldWhether advising his clients, mentoring his team, or coaching entrepreneurs, he is always simplifying complexity and motivating others to take the next action that’s right for them.
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