Computer Security How to Identify Potentially Harmful Spam Emails

How to Identify Potentially Harmful Spam Emails

Nowadays we are all faced with an onslaught of spam email messages. Some computer users get more than others and some know how to easily identify an email as a spam message. The question is, how do you identify what email is actually a spam message?

What is a Spam Email?

A spam email is what many of us consider to be junk email that contains unsolicited information such as advertisements, special offers, unknown attachments and many times embedded links to unknown websites. If you get emails offering drugs such as Viagra, Cialis and Levitra as shown in Figure 1. below, then you know exactly what we are referring to.

harmful spam email
Figure 1. Example of a potentially harmful spam email message offering Viagra drugs.

Spammers usually send out spam messages in bulk to many recipients at one time in hopes that the receiver clicks on one of their links or downloads one of their attachments. A large number of these spam messages are not 'friendly' and the so-called 'offer' that you get in the message body or file attachment is malicious.

Spam messages account for about 78% of all emails sent. Once your email address is in circulation over the Internet, there's a high change that it will be subjected to getting spammed.

Recognize Spam Email Scams on the Spot

The easiest way to tell when certain message is spam is if the message has an offer that seems too good to be true like a chance to win large amounts of money for doing relatively nothing.

Phishing scams are usually tied into spamming schemes in that the links provided in many spam messages redirect you to a site that is designed to steal personal information. Phishing sites are just that, a web page or site designed by a hacker to look legitimate but in the end asks for personal data such as banking account numbers, logins, passwords, social security numbers or even your credit card number. In the end, a spam email that redirects you to a phishing site may result in identity theft.

The hard part about identifying spam is when the message comes from an easily identifiable company such as a banking institution. Usually hackers will use a faux banking email address or one that is masked as a banking domain to make you think that a bank needs your information.

Identifying other types of spam messages that many spam blocking applications do not actively catch is also a difficult task. Sometimes a message may seem to come from a company that you know and trust. Organizations such as the Red Cross, IRS and even the Census Bureau are heavily used as a pretense by hackers in spam emails. You must use internet common sense in these cases and know that such organizations will never ask you for personal data over email such as your social security number, passwords or banking data. If an email asks you for any of this information then you can be assured that it is a spam email.

Other ways to easily identify spam email is when...

  • You do not know the person that sent you the email.
  • You are asked to send money to obtain a large cash sum.
  • You are asked for a password or banking account information.
  • The sender offers to send photocopies of 'certified' documents of proof to justify a claim.
  • The sender repeatedly asks for personal or secret information.

How Can I Prevent Harmful Spam?

Below is a list of simple, general tips on how to prevent spam from ever causing potential harm to you.

  • Never reply or click links in an obvious spam message.
  • Do not download any attachments from suspicious emails.
  • Read as many messages as text as you can by turning off the ability to view images or HTML.
  • Keep all personal and business addresses confidential.
  • Read privacy policies before revealing your email address.
  • Do not forward or participate in chain emails.
  • Use the highest privacy settings within your email client or application.
  • Preview email messages before opening them.
  • Use a spam blocker or filter when possible.

How do you identify spam messages? Does your email client do a good job at catching or blocking all of your spam email? What percentage of spam do you get each day compared to legitimate emails?

1 Comment

Interesting post. Spam is generally considered to be very annoying, but most do not think of it to be harmful and end up paying for their complacence.
TeleSign Matt