How to identify fake or phishing mail

The six most common phishing features

Email is a popular source for scams and identity theft. Phishing is a widespread problem in the Internet world, and email is the main vehicle for carrying it out.

How to identify fake or phishing mail

Here are the most common features of phishing emails, as well as a guide to help you identify a spoof.

The content seems real: Phishing emails are made with the objective of making it look like they were sent by the company they are being passed off as. Logos, contact information, copyright information and style are identical to an original.

Occasionally, one or two links included in the email may take you to legitimate pages, however they always bring at least one link to malware downloads or fake pages to capture your information.

That’s the purpose of a phishing email. As a general rule: no serious company or organization will send you an unwanted email – which is not the result of a request from you or a process you initiated – requesting that you access a link that asks for confidential information.

A healthy practice is that in an empty browser window, you access the real page in question and from there you verify if the action requested is really required.

Generic greetings – These types of emails are designed to be sent to many recipients, of which they usually only have one email address, hence your greeting is something similar to “Dear Customer”, “To all our account holders” or their English equivalents.

A company or agency that prides itself on having good customer service will send emails addressed to you.

Disguised links – The links in the email will be presented in such a way that they look authentic. Even when a link is presented as, it does not guarantee that the address it actually links to is the one the text says.

Images with links – The mail is in its entirety an image, on which you can click after which a fraudulent link is opened. If you inadvertently click on this image, immediately close the resulting browser window or tab.

It is urgent that you act – These types of emails are written in such a way as to give you a sense of urgency to click on one of the links or images that offer you.

Common phrases: your account must be updated, your account is about to be deleted, suspicious activity was detected in your account, routine procedures that require your verification, among others of the same nature.

How to identify a fake email?

The following list lists the main indicators to watch for when trying to identify a spoof. None of these indicators are infallible or definitive, however they are guidelines to protect you from fraudulent emails or phishing.

Email Domain – The most basic verification that can be done is that the email domain (what comes after the @ symbol) corresponds to the company that is theoretically sending the email.

It must be a domain that leaves no room for doubt that it is legitimate. Sometimes scammers make forgeries that can make you doubt, for example an email supposedly sent by PayPal is, where might sound like it’s part of PayPal, but it’s not.

Wrong account – If you have multiple email accounts, one simple way is this: ask yourself if the email address you received is the one you provided to the company or agency that sent you the email. If not, you can say with certainty that this is an attempt at fraud.

Attachments – If a company or organization sends you a document, it will almost always be in the form of a PDF. Special care must be taken with images.

Rule: If the attachment is in HTML, EXE, or some other format that causes the operating system to ask permission to run it, it’s almost certainly malware or phishing.

Verify if it is a secure page (SSL) – If you clicked on a link that brings one of these emails, make sure before giving any information, that the page is using an HTTPS address (use SSL).

Fake pages usually do a good job of forging the real thing, but they can’t forge an SSL certificate as easily as any company that handles money or subscriptions should use for confidential information pages.

Misleading addresses – Before clicking on a link, pass the mouse over it (without clicking), this does in almost all mail clients that appears the address or URL of the page to which the link goes, if this address does not correspond to the company or agency that supposedly sends the mail, is a fraud. Some addresses are misleading, for example, PayPal warns that addresses such as the following are fraudulent:


Forms in email – An email with fields for you to enter your information is definitely a fraud.

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