How to spot the phish

We’ve all received those phishing scam emails. They try to pretend they are from big, well-known companies and they try to entice you into clicking on a link. Then the criminals will try to get hold of a legitimate username and password. Or worse, they try to install malicious software on your computer, like ransomware. They used to be easy to spot, by their bad grammar and poor spelling. But they are getting more sophisticated.

Here’s one I received this week. Looks like a real email from Sage. The logo is right. The grammar is perfect. And so is the spelling. One of the links in the email even goes to the Sage website. But the one in bigger text does not. It goes somewhere unrelated to Sage, probably a hijacked website belonging to someone who was not careful about their website security.

This email from Sage looks OK – but take a closer look

This email came to a Gmail account and Google’s spam filters correctly identified this as suspicious and sent it straight to my Spam folder. But this does not always happen, and if you don’t have a spam filtering service in place, it may never happen. So here are a few questions to ask to help to spot the scam.

  1. Do you do business with the company?
  2. Am I expecting an email from them?
  3. Who is the email actually from?
  4. Where does the link go to?
  5. What is the grammar like?

If you don’t do business with them or you weren’t expecting something from this sender, you should immediately be suspicious. You can usually check who the email is actually from. On the face of it, this email says its from Sage, but if you look more closely…
… you can see it comes from an address totally unrelated to Sage. So the email system of that address may have been hacked. Gmail on the web often shows this address but if your email system doesn’t, look for an option like “Show details”.

Try to work out where the link goes. In Gmail, you can usually do this by hovering over the link with the mouse. This may not be as easy within an email program or on a phone, so you might want to adopt the “better safe than sorry” approach and don’t click on links in emails like this.

Finally check the spelling and grammar. Even though they have been getting better, there’s still a lot of scam emails with really poor grammar out there.

Email is a great tool for business communications and most businesses could not work without it. You can get protected by using the right email service with good spam/phishing filters, or by adding an email filtering service to your existing email. But above all:

Be sceptical!

And get in touch for help and advice on keeping your IT systems safe and secure.