Teaching People how to Identify SpamWritten by Casper Manes on September 14, 2011
After the article on talking to people about spam, we got a few requests to go deeper into the topic and share some more ways a technically adept user could show to a non-technical user how to identify spam. In this post I will share snips from some actual spam messages I have recently received, and while someone like you or I could tell instantly that they are spam, I will call out to “regular folks” what makes it spam.
You are welcome to discuss this post with your non-tech friends, or just point them to this post and let them approach it on their own. If you choose to let them self-study, please be available for them in case they might have any questions.
Email can be very social, so the temptation is there to read, believe, and respond to anything you receive. But if the message is from anyone you haven’t heard from in ages, or a business you have not dealt with, show some healthy skepticism.
Emergency messages from friends or relatives
Many scams will try to convince you to send money to a stranded relative who can somehow email you, but didn’t call and can’t be reached by phone. Do you really think they had access to email, but not a phone? Don’t fall for this scam.
Requests to update your account
Any time you get an email from your bank, your credit card, or some social networking site telling you to click the included link to update your settings, you can bet it’s fake. Call the customer service number on your card or account statement, or go to their website by typing in the URL to your browser to confirm, but NEVER click the link that is in the email.
Requests for your password
You will never, ever, get a legitimate request to provide someone your password. Never.
Always treat links in emails with a healthy sense of caution. Mouse over them to see if the URL that appears in the message matches what is in the status bar, and if you have any doubts at all, better safe than sorry. You can always Bing for the page if you really want to see it.
This may apply more here in the US than elsewhere, but almost every spam message I have ever looked at has some obvious misspellings. I mean ones that anyone should catch. This may also include STrange CAPitalization. Most legitimate senders use spellcheck.
This is another one; though it may be more subtle and even legitimate messages may have some punctuation errors. Dont be a grammar nazi, but think twice when you are checking your mail.
Pleas for help from strangers
Unless you actually submitted your email address to a list of good Samaritans and charitable causes, no one is going to email you out of the blue asking for help.
Offers too good to be true
No dead businessman has EVER left an unclaimed bank account worth millions, and no last surviving scion of a deposed dictator is going to reach out to you to help smuggle millions out of the country. Microsoft does not give away laptops to people who forward their email, and Walt Disney doesn’t give free vacations for that either.
You’re a winner, but you never entered the contest
Same concept. If you didn’t enter a drawing, contest, or raffle, how could you be the winner. If you are giving out your email address to so many things you can’t remember, spam may not be the biggest problem you have.
Anything that wants you to forward to others
Just don’t do it.
Attachments you weren’t expecting
Malware (the fancy name for viruses and other programs that will crash your computer and steal your passwords) are often sent as attachments, hoping to get you to open them. Even if it is a friend who sent you the message, call them to be sure they really sent it before you open it.
Open the attachment to read the message
Same idea, only more likely to fool the curious since they want to know what the message is. Don’t fall for it. No legitimate mail will be sent as an attachment without anything in the body of the email.
There may be good reasons for some of these (but not the passwords, giveaways, or requests to update your account) so don’t assume every email you get is spam, just understand most of them are, and use caution and good judgment. It really is better to be safe than sorry.