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How To Tell If That Scary Email Message Is Actually Spam

A few days ago I received an email from a client asking if a message they received was spam. The email looked official and sounded very scary, saying that the email account would be locked unless they followed a link to reset their password.

Because of the number of websites I manage I receive dozens of similar messages every day. It’s a sadly common occurrence.

As a result I thought it would be helpful to explain what to look for when evaluating an email for trustworthiness.

  • Read the message carefully. If it contains threatening or fear inducing words that are designed to make you do something it is almost definitely spam. A legitimate email wouldn’t threaten you with account deletion if you don’t click a link.
  • Absolutely never, ever, ever click a link in an email you think is suspect. Doing so could very easily send you to a malware laden web page.
  • If there are links to a website that is not the same domain name as the company sending the email. Scammers often use URL shortening services like to mask where a link point to. If your bank sends you a real message it will never contain a link to a random website.
  • Read the message carefully. If it contains poorly constructed English, random spacing, odd line breaks and incorrect capitalization, it is almost certainly spam.
  • If the email contains an outdated company logo, poor quality graphics or is generally poorly designed, it is probably spam.
  • If your email account starts with a generic term like into@ and the email is addressed to ‘Info’ instead of your actual name, it is probably spam.
  • Look at the email address that sent the message. Not the name of sender, the actual email address. It’s very simple to say a message is from someone else when sending an email. A common tactic of scammers is to send you a fake message from your own web server using a hacked email account.
  • The absolute best way to avoid getting scammed is to not click any links or call any phone numbers listed in an email. If you receive an email from your bank saying your account has been compromised, look up your bank’s phone number online and call them manually.

Don’t forget that these same tips apply to the legitimate messages too you send every day. If you are making any of the above mistakes when composing email messages there is a very good chance the person receiving your email will assume it is spam and ignore it.

Jeff is a web & graphic designer, writer, blogger, videographer and photographer. Jeff has spent almost 25 years in the industry, with hands-on experience in web design, offset printing, digital prepress and graphic design.

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