Phishing Emails are Very Tricky
They look like the emails an actual company sends out. But if you fall for the trickery, and click a link in the email, your information goes to a spammer, a hacker, a thief. “Phishing” is an attempt by hackers to get you to click a link, thinking it is a link to a company you actually do business with (e.g. your bank or your package shipper), so they can gather your personal information.
Before clicking on any link in any email, even one where you recognize the company, even if you send them emails regularly, think about what would happen if you gave private information to someone you shouldn’t.
Look for bad grammar, bad spelling, anything suspicious in the email.
Look for places where the actual company already has your information, yet the email is asking for it.
Hovering over a link, *without clicking it* often reveals URL trickery. Watch for additional letters, misspellings, etc. in the URL, the link destination. Sometimes the link is very obviously fake, sometimes you have to look at each character.
If you don’t know what to look for, have someone who is “good with computers” show you a few times, and practice looking yourself while they are watching.
View Source of the email is always safe, and you can see all the tricks (if you can peer into the HTML without running in horror, since both phishers and legitimate newsletters often have horrifying messy HTML).
Email Program Warnings
If your email program alerts you there is something suspicious about the email, it is probably correct.
The only time you should ignore the warning your email program gives, is if you registered with the company, and want them to be tracking your clicks on their email links. A good example of this would be the email that confirms you wanting to get their newsletter or become a member of their site; those will have tracking codes in the link URL.
Browse Directly To Company Web Sites
If you could simply browse to the company’s web site, instead of using a link from the email, do that. For example, if you get an email that you need to confirm a transaction, and you recently did a transaction with that company, log into the website, the way you normally do. If that email is real then you will see the problem mentioned on the company’s web site.
Many phishers will have very obvious bad-URLs in their emails. But some will do amazing tricks to look like the real site. If the real URL has a double-L in it, they might use a triple-L. Or use a one instead of an el. Or a zero instead of an oh. Or an extra word (e.g. amazon.abc.com instead of amazon.com). They know more tricks than you do…
Don’t read the text and think the link is valid. You must check the link destination, not the link text.
Browse to the company web site, don’t use links in emails.
If the link has a tracking code, or coupon code, and you can’t simply type in the URL, learn how to copy just the “extra stuff” and paste it in your browser after you type the domain name. So for a link like “View This Message In Your Browser” with a URL of
copy the link (in many email programs you right click the link and select copy link location) and paste it to your text editor, then select everything after the domain name. Or, if you prefer, and can see in the text editor that every character of the domain name is correct (easier to do in a text editor with a fixed-width font, than in your email program), you can paste the whole link in your browser.
What Can You Do About Phishers?
If you want to report the phishing attempt, or the spam, or the spoofing, so the company can do something about it (perhaps legal action, or getting the similar domain name cancelled, or getting the hosting account closed), forward the messages — as attachments, not as an inline response — to the company.
It is fine to simply delete the garbage message. It’s too much work to try and report them all.
But do not ever respond to the phisher, or click their “unsubscribe” link — that just confirms to them that this is a valid email with a human being that might get suckered next time.
There are so many of these, I added a keyword to all mine (e.g. “report spam” or “report phishing”) in my email address book, to find them easily.
FedEx Spoof Reporting firstname.lastname@example.org
Apple Phishing or Spam email@example.com
Wells-Fargo Report Phishing firstname.lastname@example.org
Chase Spoof Reporting email@example.com
American Express Spoof Reporting firstname.lastname@example.org
Federal Trade Commission Spam Reporting email@example.com
eBay Spoof Reporting firstname.lastname@example.org
PayPal Spoof Reporting email@example.com
Amazon Spoof Reporting firstname.lastname@example.org