How to Identify a Phishing or Spoofing Email

Phishing attacks are more rampant than before, and although we have numerous security defenses in place to block unwanted or malicious email, some inevitably come through. Those that do slip through are incredibly sophisticated, and are difficult to spot. To help, we've provided 10 tips below on how to identify a phishing or spoofing email.

Tip 1: Don’t trust the display name

A favorite phishing tactic among cybercriminals is to spoof the display name of an email. Here’s how it works: If a fraudster wanted to spoof Cedar Crest College, the email may look something like:

To: Jane Smith <>

From: Cedar Crest College IT <>

Subject: Unathorized Login Attempt – Update your Password

This fraudulent email, once delivered, appears legitimate because most user inboxes only present the display name. Don’t trust the display name. However, you can see from the example that the actual email address in the From line is from, NOT Check the email address in the header from—if looks suspicious, don’t open the email.

Tip 2: Look but don’t click

Hover your mouse over any links embedded in the body of the email. If the link address looks weird, don’t click on it. If you want to test the link, open a new window and type in website address directly rather than clicking on the link from unsolicited emails.

Tip 3: Check for spelling mistakes

Brands are pretty serious about email. Legitimate messages usually do not have major spelling mistakes or poor grammar. Read your emails carefully and report anything that seems suspicious.

Tip 4: Analyze the salutation

Is the email addressed to a vague “Valued Customer?” If so, watch out -- legitimate businesses will often use a personal salutation with your first and last name.

Tip 5: Don’t give up personal information

Legitimate banks and most other companies (including Cedar Crest College!) will never ask for personal credentials via email. Don’t give them up.

Tip 6: Beware of urgent or threatening language in the subject line

Invoking a sense of urgency or fear is a common phishing tactic. Beware of subject lines that claim your “account has been suspended” or your account had an “unauthorized login attempt.”

Tip 7: Review the signature

Lack of details about the signer or how you can contact a company strongly suggests a phish. Legitimate businesses always provide contact details.

Tip 8: Don’t click on attachments

Including malicious attachments that contain viruses and malware is a common phishing tactic. Malware can damage files on your computer, steal your passwords or spy on you without your knowledge. Don’t open any email attachments you weren’t expecting.

Tip 9: Don’t use your phone.

If you're checking email on your phone, it might actually be harder to spot a phishing attempt. You can't "mouse over" a questionable link, and the smaller screen makes you less likely to spot obvious gaffes. Although many phone browsers (and operating systems) are immune from harmful sites and downloads, it's still good to exercise caution when dealing with suspicious links. (Obviously you still shouldn't complete a form that asks for your password or other personal info.) Android users in particular should be aware of the potential risks.

Tip 10: Don’t believe everything you see

Phishers are extremely good at what they do. Just because an email has convincing brand logos, language, and a seemingly valid email address, does not mean that it’s legitimate. Be skeptical when it comes to your email messages -- if it looks even remotely suspicious, don’t open it.

In the end, simply rely on common sense.

You can't win a contest you didn't enter. Your bank won't contact you using an email address you never registered. Microsoft did not "remotely detect a virus on your PC." Know the warning signs, think before you click, and never, ever give out your password or financial info unless you're properly signed into your account.


Did you receive SPAM or PHISHING? 

  • Don't click on any links, or take the action the sender has asked.
  • Drag that email to your Junk Mail folder
  • Right-click on the Junk Mail Folder
  • Left-click on Empty Contents of the folder.
  • If you clicked on any link in the email, change your FalconNet password in FalconLink. Directions are here: Changing Your FalconNet Password with FalconLink

For more information on SPAM/Phishing and Managing Your Junk Mail, watch the videos below:
Internet Security Best Practices: Click here (will require FalconNet login)
Managing Your Junk Mail: Click here (will require FalconNet login)


Article ID: 54913
Tue 6/5/18 10:10 AM
Mon 8/1/22 12:37 PM