What 7 Things Could Identify a Phishing Email? Key Signs

Mar 6, 2024 | Scam Calls, Smishing | 0 comments

Since the early days of the internet, email has been used as a powerful tool, changing how we connect with people and businesses worldwide. However, it wasn’t long before scammers began to adapt, making the daily use of email a prime target for their attacks.

Through a fake email —known as a phishing email—, these cybercriminals seek to trick people into giving away confidential information. According to Station X, an estimated 3.4 billion emails are sent daily by these criminals, designed to look like they come from trusted sources; this is equivalent to over a trillion phishing emails every year

How can we, then, distinguish a real email from a fake email? In this post, we will talk about 7 critical signs to identify a phishing email, giving you the tools to protect yourself from potential identity theft or the loss of your crypto funds.

What is Phishing?

Phishing is a fraudulent practice where an attacker pretends to be a reputable entity or person through an email, text message (smishing), or phone call (scam calls). But frequently, these attackers send malicious links or attachments through a spoofed email to steal login credentials, account numbers, and other personal information.

What is a Phishing Email?

A phishing email is a fake message that appears legitimate, often requesting confidential personal information in various ways. Scammers try to make phishing messages closely similar to those sent by trusted companies, employing various techniques to do so. 

They may use public information from social platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to gather personal details, work history, interests, and activities of potential victims, using this data to create convincing phishing emails. 

Here are some of the phishing techniques used by scammers to send attractive emails:

  • Link Manipulation: Also known as URL hiding, this technique involves creating a malicious URL that appears to link to a legitimate site but directs to a harmful web resource.
  • URL Spoofing: Attackers use JavaScript to insert a legitimate-looking URL over the browser’s address bar. The true URL is revealed by moving your mouse over an attached link, which can also be manipulated using JavaScript.
  • Link Shortening: Services like Bitly are used to hide the destination of a link, making it difficult to tell if it leads to a legitimate or malicious site.
  • Covert Redirect: People are tricked into divulging personal details when redirected to a false site that appears as a reliable source, which then requests permission to link to another website. The redirected URL is an intermediate, malicious page that collects authentication info before redirecting to the legitimate site.
  • Graphical Rendering: Part or all of a message sent as a graphical image can bypass security software scanning for phrases or terms common in phishing emails.
  • Homograph Spoofing: This involves URLs created with different characters that closely imitate a trusted domain name, using slightly different character sets to resemble well-known domains.
  • Chatbots: AI-enabled chatbots are used to eliminate grammatical and spelling errors common in phishing emails, making the messages sound more legitimate and harder to detect.
Email Icon Notification on a Phone Screen

How to Identify a Phishing Email?

Identifying a phishing email among the real ones can be challenging due to the advanced nature of modern phishing tactics. Successful phishing messages often seem like legitimate communications from well-known companies, complete with corporate logos and other identifying data. 

Here are 7 signs that can help you differentiate a real email from a suspicious email, thus improving your ability to protect sensitive financial information:

1-DNS Authentication Checks Fail

Legitimate emails usually pass SPF (Sender Policy Framework), DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail), and DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance) checks. 

If an email fails any of these DNS record checks, it is typically marked as spam or not delivered, indicating it could be a phishing attempt.

2-Domain Name Discrepancies

The sender’s email address should match the legitimate domain of the organization they claim to represent. 

For example, emails from a legitimate company like “LegitInternetCompany” would come from “@legitinternetcompany.com,” not a similar sounding, but fake domain like “@legitinternetco.com”.

3-Generic Greetings

Phishing emails often use generic greetings such as “customer”, “account holder”, or “dear” instead of your name, signaling a mass phishing effort rather than a personal message from a legitimate sender.

4-Urgency or Time Limits

Phishing attempts frequently create a false sense of urgency, prompting quick action with promises or threats, such as a limited-time gift card offer or a data breach requiring password updates. These tactics are rarely associated with real deadlines.

5-Grammatical Errors

Poor grammar, spelling mistakes, and awkward sentence structures may indicate the email is from an unreliable source.

6-Mismatched Links 

The links in a phishing email might not match the supposed domain of the sender, directing users to malicious sites instead of the claimed legitimate website.

7-Suspicious CTAs

Even if a call-to-action (CTA) seems to direct you to a legitimate site, it could redirect to a malicious site or initiate a malware download. Trustworthy organizations do not typically request sensitive information (e.g., credit card numbers) via email links.

By paying close attention to these signs and approaching unexpected or unsolicited emails with scrutiny and skepticism, you can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to phishing. 

Woman with Glasses Looking at a Laptop Screen, Covering Her Face

Examples of Phishing Emails

A phishing email can take many forms, targeting victims through various themes. Here, we provide 3 common examples of how scammers target victims through phishing emails.

1-Digital Payment-Based Scams: Scammers pretend to be popular online payment services like PayPal, Venmo, or Wise. 

  • Victims receive emails asking to verify login details under the guise of resolving account issues, often leading them to fraudulent spoof pages.

2-Finance-Based Phishing Scams: These scams appear to be communications from banks or financial institutions, falsely informing victims of security compromises. Examples include:

  • Emails about suspicious money transfers that confuse victims into thinking fraudulent charges have been made to their accounts, leading to clicks on malicious links.
  • Direct deposit scams targeting new employees with notifications of login issues, forcing them to click on a link that redirects to a spoof website, potentially leading to malware installation and data theft.

3-Work-Related Phishing Scams: Attackers may show up as the victim’s boss, CEO, or CFO, requesting wire transfers or fake purchases. Tactics include:

  • Emails about changing scheduled meetings, which direct victims to spoof login pages for platforms like Microsoft Office 365 or Microsoft Outlook, with the goal of stealing passwords.
  • Use of AI voice generators to impersonate company management over the phone, tricking employees into making unauthorized money transfers.

How to Avoid a Phishing Email?

While no security tool or filtering service can completely eliminate phishing emails, there are several steps users can take to reduce the likelihood of falling victim to such attacks:

  • Evaluate emails for suspicious elements: Check email headers for misleading sender names or email addresses, and analyze the body for malicious attachments or links. Be cautious when opening emails from unfamiliar addressees.
  • Do not share personal information: Avoid exchanging sensitive details such as social security numbers, banking information, or passwords in email communications, even with trusted contacts.
  • Block spam: Utilize your email client’s built-in spam filters and consider third-party filtering services for more granular control. Unsubscribe from mailing lists, refrain from opening unwanted emails, and avoid disclosing your email address publicly.
  • Use email security protocols: Implement authentication methods like SPF, DKIM, and DMARC records to verify the origins of emails. Domain owners can set up these records to prevent attackers from impersonating their domains.
  • Employ browser isolation services: These services run and isolate browser code in the cloud, to protect users from malware that might be delivered through web-based email clients.
  • Verify suspicious messages independently: If an email still seems suspicious, independently confirm its legitimacy by contacting the sender through a phone call or text message. If in doubt, ask if there’s a more secure way to transmit any requested confidential information.
Laptop on a Table Displaying a Cybersecurity Sign on the Screen

Conclusion

Despite the wide range of communication options available today, scammers continue to use phishing emails as a primary method to interact with potential victims, because to their high success rate in committing digital fraud.

Station X reiterates the scale of this problem, showing that: an estimated 91% of all cyberattacks begin with a phishing email, highlighting the critical role of self-protection in the digital space. 

The Cryptoscam Defense Network believes that protection against phishing emails is vital to prevent financial loss but also to protect your private keys, avoid identity theft, and contribute to a secure digital environment for everyone. 

We Want to Hear From You!

The fight against cryptocurrency scams is a community effort, and your insights are invaluable. Have you encountered a scam, or do you have questions about navigating the complex world of digital currency? Maybe you have suggestions or want to share your story to help others. Whatever your experience, we’re here to listen and support you.

Reach out to us at hello@cryptoscamdefensenetwork.com. Share your stories, ask questions, or make comments. Your voice is crucial to building a resilient and informed community. Together, we can improve our defenses and promote a safer digital space for all.

Be a part of the change. Your story matters.

Photos via Pexels.