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How to Spot a Phishing Scam

J Forlanda currently directs an IT department at a medium sized school district in California where cybersecurity awareness is key.

It Seeks Urgency of Action

If an email is asking you to take urgent action, do not click that link or open its attachment, regardless of how legitimate an email looks. Today phishing emails look as legitimate as the real deal. Do not fall for it.

Say for example you received an email from what looks like your bank, and it is saying there is suspicious activity in your account; and that if you don't click the link to login, they will suspend your account. The email is asking you to take urgent action to click the link in the email. This urgency to take action tells you this is a phishing email. The malicious source is basically waiting for your to click their link, capture your bank login credentials, and steal them. The fact that they are trying to scare you into doing this is also another clue.

Now, maybe you think it is legit. I recommend you do not click the link in the email. Instead, open your web browser, go to your bank's web site, and login. There you can see if there are any alerts or notifications regarding suspicious activities. Most likely, when you do, you will see that nothing is happening to your account at all. It was all a ruse.

Sometimes the email will have an attachment. In cases like this, the email will try to convince you to open the attachment as it has information you seek. It is basically preying on the human instinct of curiosity. STOP! The only time you should open an email attachment is if you were expecting it from a particular source. In any case, instead of opening the attachment, opt to download or save it to your computer. If the email came from a malicious source, opening it will immediately launch malware. By downloading or saving it to your computer, you can have your antivirus program check it, or you can post it at There you can post a file, and it will check if the file is infected.

Has Misspellings

Phishing emails tend to have spelling and grammatical errors. If you notice unusual grammar and misspellings, the email is highly likely a phishing email. This is statistically true.

Delete it or put it in your spam folder immediately.

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Source Email Address Doesn't Match

Although the displayed name of the source email may look legit, you'll need to go beyond that to see if the actual email source address valid. For example if the email came from Bank of America, it's domain would be So if the email claims to be from customer service at Bank of America, their source email address might be something like To figure out what the domain is in an email address, look for the string to the right side of the @ sign. For example, if the source email address says, the domain is

Suspicious Source Email Domain

Suspicious Source Email Domain

Keep these 3 things in mind:

A phishing email...

1. seeks urgency of action

2. has misspellings and grammatical errors

3. has source email address domain that doesn't match what it is impersonating

Share Your Phishing Story

The example I gave here is a real phishing email which I saved for illustration purposes. Do you have one you've found you would like to share? If so, which organization was it impersonating, and how did it try to trick you into either clicking the link or opening an attachment?

Please share in the comments below.

© 2021 J Forlanda

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