Easily identify phishing & spam mailers

2012-12-31 10:15

Love it or hate it, email marketing is here to stay. Make sure you have the knowledge you need to identify spam emails, and keep yourself safe from phishing scams.

Internet and email, while they’ve opened the world up to easy international trading, they’ve also left us exposed to potential risk and fraud scams.

Your first line of defense in this arena is knowledge.

A very key thing to understand is that any link in an email or on the web has two distinct elements: the link you see and the actual path that the link will follow.

This, unfortunately, makes it very easy for spammers & phishers to mask or hide their links in order to try and fool you, and it’s how they inadvertently catch people out.

An easy way to mitigate this is to get in the habit of checking URLs (the actual address of a website page) before you follow them.

For example, links assigned to the company should always lead to a page owned by that domain. This means that if you follow a link to an Absa site, the first part of the link should be www.absa.co.za.

If, for example, the link structure looks something like www.serious.com/absa, then it’s pretty safe to assume that this is a phishing email.

In addition, you should get to know your email platform, and what it can and can’t do.

Some email platforms allow you to preview the actual path that a link will follow. Microsoft Outlook, for instance, will display a text version of the link that will be followed when you hover over the URL, while Mac Mail will allow you to auto preview the page that a link goes to, when you click on the little arrow you find next to the right of each URL in the body of the email.

Another common giveaway is that many of the email addresses of the spammers are Yahoo and Gmail addresses.

Always take this as a sign of spamming - it’s one of the surest indicators you have.

This is because spammers will in 99% of cases not have access to the email server and set up of the provider they wish to mimic, so they’ll be unable to set up an address under the provider’s domain.

The quickest way to determine this is to visit the site of the provider that you believe the email is coming from and then see if the email address domain matches that of the contact person on the mail e.g. a mail from Absa (www.absa.co.za) should be from name@absa.co.za or name.surname@absa.co.za.

This tip is also really useful when you already know the existing format of email addresses at an organisation, as many companies keep to the same format, and then variances can act as an alert for you.

In addition go check up with your bank and find out what kinds of communication you’re registered for with them. If you are not registered to receive email marketing from them, then you can safely delete any emails that supposedly arrive from your bank.

You can also ask what kinds of communications they may send out to you, so that you can be prepared for a well-designed phishing mailer that is designed to trick or trap you.

Another handy idea is to get onto a legitimate mailing list, such as the Decision Makers Database.

This way, you get used to the kinds of marketing you are going to receive, and you can still receive a wide variety of business marketing information, without feeling fear about the legitimacy of the ad you are responding to.

When in doubt, don’t.

If you are in any way feeling unsure or worried about an email, do nothing with it, or just delete it.

Any business or organization that urgently needs to get hold of you, especially for something as important as movement in your bank accounts, will find a way to do it.

Alternatively, you will always be welcomed if you make a call to the call centre to enquire as to the legitimacy of a communication, and if you let the bank know, they will be able to update their other clients, and potentially put a stop to this particular spammer.

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