It’s a pretty safe bet that about ten seconds after the first email was ever sent, someone figured out how to send spam emails. While spam emails can be everything from annoying offers to buy a new car at a low interest rate to product endorsements for herbal pills you’ve never heard of, the more nefarious spam emails fall more into the realm of scams than unwanted commercials.

Some scam emails are easy to spot, such as one promising you’ve won millions of dollars in a foreign lottery and need to click here to claim your prize. Fortunately, these scams have become such a popular joke that they rarely sucker unsuspecting people in anymore. The downside of our computer savviness, though, is that so-called phishing scams (named that because they’re “fishing” for information or access to your computer) have gotten even more sophisticated in order to lure you in.

Phishing scams now come in a small variety of types, but often include some of the same basic features. Many of them seem to represent major companies, like Apple, PayPal, or a well-known bank or credit card like Wells Fargo or Mastercard. The sender is hoping that you’re one of the hundreds of millions of customers who use that company and will therefore fall for it.

In these scams, the would-be thief plays off your fear of losing your money, having your account frozen, or even worse, being accused of some kind of crime associated with your account. In a few instances, they’ll even promise you a refund of some kind that is owed to you. After all, what’s not to love about a refund?

But here are some surefire ways to detect phishing emails. First, take a close look at the grammar. Rest assured that Apple’s public relations team is not going to let an email go out to all of its 800 million-plus users with misspelled words or poor grammar. One sneaky little thing to look for may seem silly at first, but it’s exclamation points. Apple does not use exclamation points to tell you that your account has been compromised and that you need to click that link to verify your account.

Next, you can hover your mouse over the sender’s address or even better, hit Reply as though you’re going to email them back. DON’T actually email them back, because that lets the scammer know you are actually replying from a valid email account.  But if you hit Reply, you will see the email address that comes up. Scams like these used to come from completely random email addresses and a few of them still might, but thieves have caught on to how much users know about the internet now. The email might say something like This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Notice how the L in PayPal is actually a number 1? That’s hard to discern on a small computer screen, and they’re hoping you fall for it.

Finally, even if everything about it looks legitimate, remember the terms of service for all of these major companies: they simply do not send out these emails and expect you to take action to protect your own account. If there is anything about your account’s safety that has been compromised, you will receive a good old-fashioned letter in the mail. At the very least you may receive an email telling you to call the company phone number associated with your account, but you will not receive an email with directions on how to click a link.

Never, ever enter your personal information due to an email you received. If in doubt, go through the standard means for contacting your company on your own, such as calling the number on the back of your credit card or going to the company’s website and searching in the Contact Us section.

If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center's Anyone3 fundraising campaign.  For more information or to donate please visit http://www.idtheftcenter.org/anyone-3

 

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