4 tips to recognise a scam or hoax email

4 tips to recognise a scam or hoax email

As covered in our last blog post 3 ways to protect against ransomware, one of the most common methods for distributing ransomware is through illegitimate emails. While spam filtering will prevent most malicious emails from being delivered, it’s inevitable that occasionally they will find their way into a user’s mailbox.

User education is key to ensure your company is protected from ransomware and other email-based threats such as more traditional viruses and scams. Below are a few useful tips which should allow even the most technophobic of employees to determine if an email poses a threat – and if it does, what to do.

  1. Ask yourself “Does it make sense that I’m receiving this email?”

When you receive an email, the first question that should come to mind is whether it seems reasonable for you to have received it. For example, if the message is from a financial institution or service provider that your organisation has nothing to do with, chances are it’s either spam, or something worse. Legitimate communication will rarely, if ever, be unsolicited.

  1. Be wary of bad spelling and poor grammar

Let’s face it, we’re not all Shakespeare, but with auto-correct on our side it’s pretty easy to compose an email with reasonable grammar and, apart from a typo here and there, correct spelling. Scam emails on the other hand tend to be riddled with misspelt words, bad punctuation and often sentences that make little to no sense at all. Whether it’s because the message has been run through automated translation before being sent, or the scammer just isn’t up to scratch with their writing skills, poorly written emails should start alarm bells ringing.

  1. Check the sender’s email address

While it may sound obvious, it’s an easy thing to overlook. When an email is received a number of different attributes contain information about the sender, some of which are much easier to fake than others. The image below is a good example – the name of the sender is listed as AGL Energy while the actual email address clearly doesn’t belong to AGL Energy.[/vc_column_text]

  1. Don’t assume because an email is from within your organisation that it’s safe

A common misconception is that emails you receive from your colleagues are automatically safe. While it’s true that the majority on internal emails won’t contain viruses or scams, this is the exact reasoning that criminals try and take advantage of. One such tactic relies on creating an email address that very closely resembles that of your company – such as user@example-company.com versus user@examplecompany.com. There are also more advanced techniques that allow for the perpetrator to send emails that on the surface look to be 100% legitimate. And finally, it’s possible that an email account within your organisation has been hacked and the sender isn’t from your company at all.

What to do now?

Ok, so now you’re armed with the information to pick out dodgy emails that may make their way into your inbox, but what next? It depends on the type of email, but there are a number of steps to take to ensure you remain protected. Most IT professionals will tell you the first step is to not open the email delete it straight away. Let’s be honest though, unless it’s glaringly obvious you’re going to have to open the message before you realise something’s amiss. The good news is that by simply opening an email there is very little chance of anything happening – further user interaction is required before issues arise so make sure you don’t reply, download or open attachments or follow any links included in the text.

If you have IT support, it’s best to forward the email your helpdesk as an attachment for further review. Though an email here or there will slip past your spam filters, forwarding the email for inspection will provide a technician further information which will help determine if there’s an issue with the configuration of your protection.  Once forwarded, delete the email from your inbox.

For suspicious emails that appear to come from inside your company the first thing to do is pick up the phone and call the sender. Thirty seconds later and you’ll be certain whether the request to transfer $100,000 into an offshore bank account really did come from your CEO. If the person at the other end of the line has no idea what you’re talking about, chances are you’re being targeted in a scam and the process is much the same as above – forward it to your support and then delete the message in question.

At the end of the day, if you’re ever unsure of the legitimacy of an email and how to proceed, the best thing to do is contact a professional for advice. Feel free to get in touch with Evolve IT Australia today – your security is our concern too, and we’re happy to help.