Have you ever received an email that seems legitimate but you weren’t sure?
With all the spam traps and phishing attempts that come to our Inbox every day, it’s hard to figure out which emails are safe and which ones should be drenched in ‘cootie spray’. 😉
Is This Spam?
I get asked this question a lot. Sometimes friends or business associates send me a copy of an email with the simple question, “Is this spam?”
Today, I’d like to walk you through some ways that you can figure this out and feel comfortable in the knowledge that you are deleting the bad emails and only opening and replying to the good emails.
Setup Email Client
Your email client is the application within which you read your email. Some of the most popular email clients are Outlook from Microsoft, and Mail from Apple. Some of us also use a web browser like Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or Opera to read Gmail, Yahoo mail and AOL mail.
The web-based email clients are already setup to deflect spam for you. I’ll focus my notes on using the stand-alone email clients like Outlook and Mail.
Both Mail and Outlook have a preference setting that enables Junk Mail Filtering. Make sure that is turned on or the checkbox checked.
The instruction from Microsoft for setting up Junk Mail Filtering is “On the Home tab, in the Delete group, click Junk, and then click Junk E-mail Options.”
<< In Mac Mail, open Mail Preferences, click on the Junk Mail tab.
The junk mail filtering in these applications is smart and you can usually rely on only nefarious emails being filtered as spam.
But what if it’s good email?
If you have just enabled junk mail filtering, your email client needs some time to learn which emails are legit. During this learning phase, it is okay to periodically check your spam filter to see if any good emails got erroneously filtered.
If you are checking the spam filter, remember that you are only looking for names you recognize. Don’t bother looking at anything that comes from a company you don’t know or do business with and especially a name you don’t recognize.
After about a week or two, you can feel safe in letting the spam filter do its work. The exception here on out is when you subscribe to a new newsletter, sometimes those welcome emails can get lost in the spam. That’s when you want to check the filter and label a legitimate welcome email as not junk.
As long as you’re looking at the email client preferences, look for the settings that control how you View email.
In Mac Mail Preferences, it’s labeled “Viewing”. Uncheck this box: Load remote content in messages.
According to Microsoft, this setting is turned off by default. Here is how you find those settings.
- Click the File tab.
- Click Options.
- Click Trust Center.
- Under Microsoft Outlook Trust Center, click Trust Center Settings.
- Make sure this is checked: Don’t download pictures automatically in HTML e-mail messages or RSS items check box.
Spam email messages may contain images or other files that when viewed, indicate to the spammer that the receiving address (that’s you!) is a live one and they should keep sending to this address.
Those other files could be viruses or programs that can infect your computer, steal your personal information, or steal your contacts list.
A Good Start
These two steps will put you in a good position in the fight against spam. But spam filters aren’t perfect, mostly because spammers keep thinking up new tricks to get past the filters. What’s a body to do?
Scan your Inbox for Threats
Occasionally, those unwanted emails are going to land in your Inbox. I have some clever ways to spot the mislabeled junk and stay safe.
Hover, Don’t Click
If you’ve opened an email that you think might be spam, don’t worry. Since you’ve turned off auto loading images, you won’t trigger an infection or an auto-reply to the spammer.
Hover your cursor over a link in the email, but don’t click it. While you hover over the link, the actual destination will pop up in the email either at the bottom of the email window or right under the link itself.
For example, if the email says it’s from PayPal, but you’re not sure, look at the link destination. The link text may say “www.paypal.com” but the destination link might be something strange like “www.paymepal.co.ag/s/ke”.
Also look at the very beginning part of the link. Does it read, “http://” or “https://”? The HTTPS signifies a secure web page.
This is an easy test for legitimacy. Make this a regular practice when checking any email you have doubts about.
How does the email read? Do the sentences make sense? Is there a typo or misspelling? Combined with other warning flags, this is another indicator of spam.
Look at the From Address. I once saw an email supposedly from Bank of America. The return address was “email@example.com”
Look carefully. Did you catch the typo? Oh those crafty spammers!
Sometimes, the message in a spam email will threaten you with account closure. Other times they ask you to reset your password because you haven’t logged in recently. If there is some sense of urgency to the email or a request to take immediate action, this is a warning flag too.
Go To The Source
Always go to the source. Never click links in emails that you have any doubt about.
For example, if you do have a PayPal account (or Bank of America or Ebay, etc.), open a new browser window and type in the address of your destination. i.e. BankOfAmerica.com. Go directly to the source and check your account if you need to.
Is it a Known Scam?
If after all these checks, you still are not completely sure about the validity of an email, search for the subject line on Google. Since spammers will send out thousands upon thousands of emails with the same message, someone before you may have posted an article about it.
Many times the real company will have added a page to their website to address this specific scam. As did Bank of America.
Please share this post with your friends and family who have questions about spam.