5 Easy Ways to Spot a Phishing Email

Phishing isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s been one of the most frequent forms of cybercrime used by cybercriminals for a number of years. However, the increased complexity of phishing scams and the use of AI by threat actors have made it much harder to spot a phishing emails. 

Therefore, knowing how to spot a phishing email is more important than ever. Strong security starts with a well-educated workforce that can spot these potential threats. In this article, we’ll show you five ways to spot a phishing email so you can start protecting your company against phishing attacks.

Five Easy Ways to Spot a Phishing Email

1. Email Addresses With Inconsistencies 

Inconsistencies in email addresses, domain names, and links are indicators that an email you’ve been sent isn’t legitimate. Frequently, the domain in the sender’s email address won’t exactly match the company the email purportedly belongs to. 

Often, URLs in the text of an email won’t match the actual link address either. To observe a link address without clicking on the link, simply hover your mouse cursor over it. 

If the email originates from an organization you correspond with regularly, check the sender’s address against previous emails. If the addresses don’t match, report the email as a phishing attack

a phishing email with inconsistent email address is an easy way to spot a phishing email

Looking at the sender is an easy way to spot a phishing email

Another key indicator is that the email you’ve received comes from a public email domain. Most professional organizations don’t send emails from addresses that end with a public domain, such as ‘@gmail.com.’

The only exception you could make to this is correspondence with smaller operations that don’t have their own email domain. However, in these instances, you should still operate cautiously and follow the other steps to identify if the email is legitimate.

2. Poorly Written Emails (Spelling Mistakes and Bad Grammar)

Poorly written emails with spelling mistakes and bad grammar are almost always a phishing scam. Many companies use spell-checking tools to check their outgoing emails by default to ensure the emails they send are grammatically correct. Therefore, seeing any grammatical errors or misspellings should raise suspicion.

Most threat actors deliberately include grammatical errors and spelling mistakes in their emails. This is a malicious way to target less observant people who make easier victims. 

A poorly written phishing email

Always be suspicious of poorly written emails

After all, cybercriminals want to make money. They don’t want lots of people to reply to their emails. Ultimately, they only want people who will fall prey to the scam to respond.

In addition, be cautious if you receive emails with an unusual message style. If you receive an email from someone you’re in contact with regularly and their email doesn’t sound consistent with their language or tone, raise the alarm!

3. Emails Requiring Urgent Action

According to 2024 phishing attack statistics, the most common words used in phishing email scams are important updates, urgent, attention, and important. Emails containing these words usually demand action, and, in most cases, emails requiring urgent action are phishing emails.

Threat actors know that people procrastinate. For example, how often do you receive an email and decide to deal with it later rather than in the moment? Well, this isn’t ideal for cybercriminals because the longer you have to think about something, the more likely you will notice things that don’t seem right. 

A phishing email demanding urgent action

The more you are panicked, the more likely you are to click!

You might not have that ‘a-ha’ moment at first, but when you return to the email with fresh eyes, you might notice a misspelling or suspicious link that helps you discover its true nature.

Cybercriminals use this approach to rush email recipients and force them into action before they can think about the red flags or spot any inconsistencies or flaws. 

4. An Empty Subject Line

When receiving emails from reputable sources, you expect them to have a subject line. The subject line gives you an indication of what the email is about or what it will contain. Any professional worth their salt would send an email with an appropriate subject line.

Therefore, you must be suspicious if you receive an email without a subject line. According to a 2023 phishing statistics report, almost 70% of phishing emails are sent without a subject line, making this one of the best ways to spot a phishing email. 

A phishing email without a header

Received an email with no subject? Approach it with caution!

Many threat actors use this approach to test the legitimacy of an email account. They send an email without a subject line and wait for an automated response saying it isn’t valid. They’ll move on to a new target if the email isn’t valid.

However, if the cybercriminal doesn’t receive a response, they’ll assume the email is legitimate. Once they know an email is valid, they’ll begin their attack. 

5. Emails Requesting Sensitive Information

Emails received from unfamiliar or unexpected senders requesting sensitive information such as login credentials, personal details, company information, or payment information should be treated with extra caution. Cybercriminals are advanced enough to create forgery login pages and payment forms that look real, so it’s easy to fall into the trap.

A phishing email requesting information

Unsure if an email is real? Don’t click on the links, instead go directly to website to check if it is a legitimate request!

This kind of email usually contains a call to action and a link that leads the recipient to a fake landing page. The recipient will be asked to input sensitive information when directed to the page.

Unless you’re 100% sure, you should never enter sensitive information before getting approval. Only once you have approval should you treat the email as legitimate. If you need help determining whether an email is legitimate, you can use the other steps we’ve outlined. 

How DIESEC Can Help Protect You From Phishing Attacks in 2024

As email phishing attacks continue to rise in number and impact, implementing DIESEC’s Phishing Simulations can help improve employee awareness about how to spot a phishing email. Phishing simulations are one of the best ways to test your company’s susceptibility to these scams and heighten your employee’s awareness of the potential threats.

DIESEC’s simulated phishing emails are sent to your team and registered every time a link is clicked, information is entered, or the emails are reported as a phishing attempt. The more employees that are exposed to this system, the lower the risk of genuine email phishing attempts negatively impacting your company.

Click here to learn more about our phishing simulation services.