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How To Spot A Phishing Email

21 February, 2019

Have you ever received an email that didn’t feel right? Like a receipt for an online order you didn't place, or a poorly worded email saying you’ve got money back from an annual tax return?

Don’t be fooled by their quirkiness, these are phishing emails, and they are a growing concern; in particular to those unaware of the threats that they pose.

In a recent report, it was found that phishing and pretexting (a form of social engineering) represents 98% of social incidents and 93% of breaches, with organisations nearly three times more likely to be breached by social attacks than via technical vulnerabilities.

By the end of 2017, the average user received 16 malicious emails per month. This might not sound like much, but for an organisation with 100 employees, that's the equivalent of around 1600 emails per month or 19,200 emails per year. Now that’s a lot of emails to avoid!

Spam filters are designed to do what they say on the tin, block spam messages! However, some emails can slip through the cracks (a lot are designed to), so we can't 100% rely on the filter working as it should.

Then it comes down to the person receiving the phishing email. They are the next and in most cases the last filter stopping unwanted intruders breaking into your world of data.

So, what can you do to prevent you or anyone in your organisation from taking the bait?

How can you spot a phishing email?

As humans, we’re not always the best when it comes to judging chance. Some of us can receive hundreds of emails a week, so if we take the average number of phishing emails we get each month, as highlighted above as 16, we are lulled into a false sense of security assuming that every email that we receive is to be trusted.

Making small changes to your habits so that you treat every incoming email with suspicion can make a significant difference when it comes to preventing a potential breach.

7 signs to look out for when spotting a phishing email 

  1. The sender's address doesn’t seem right

When you open an email, always check the email address of the sender first. If an email claims to be from a company you know, but the sender’s email address doesn’t match up, then that’s a sign something isn’t right.

Emails from addresses such as ‘’ or ‘’ are early telltale signs that the email is not to be trusted.

  1. The email has poor spelling and grammar

When you’re reading an email, look out for any spelling or grammar errors, and also consider how well written the email is. Official emails will usually contain no spelling or grammatical errors, probably because professionals wrote them. Criminals, however, tend to cut corners.

So, for example, if you receive an email trying to pass off as legitimate but it reads like this: 

“Dear {{.FirstName}}

Someone has sent your an email uing Mail Lock the UK's most scure email platform.

To see your mail, please, click here 

This email link will expier 24 hours after you have redd this notification emai.

After this time the link message will be held securely until you get a replacement link messgae sent securly from the sender


The Maillock Team”

Then you need to start asking questions!

  1. The email has an odd use of imagery

Some phishing emails will often use attractive imagery and graphics such as photographs or company logos to make them look more like emails you’d get from a marketing team.

Remember to bare in mind, that just because the email contains nice pictures and looks like it’s laid out professionally doesn’t mean it might not be a phishing email. 

Check the logos and images, if they’re blurry, of poor quality or look stretched out, that’s a dead giveaway that somebody has taken it from a quick Google search.

  1. The email is designed to make you panic or make a hasty decision

Some phishing emails are designed to create a sense of urgency or make you panic, such as time-sensitive offers and situations that prompt you to act immediately and make impulsive decisions without thinking.

 You might receive an email claiming to be from one of the systems that you use telling you that your account will be deleted if you don’t confirm your email address within an hour. This is a tactic designed to make you panic and throw caution to the wind.

  1. The email sounds too good to be true

“It’s good news. Having looked at your tax payments for 2018, you overpaid by £157 which you can claim back now.”

If you read this, you’d probably think it was a nice quick win for your bank account. 

Unfortunately, phishing emails usually offer tempting incentives like this so that you rush into getting your hands on it without so much as a second thought. Whenever there’s an incentive in an email, always think twice. Remember, if it reads too good to be true, it probably is!

  1. Verify links before clicking

Hiding a link in an email is easy. Some phishing emails will place links on bits of text or buttons, so it doesn’t have to reveal a URL.

But, you can check out where a link will take you by hovering your mouse over the text. Take note of the URL and make sure it matches the website that you expect before clicking! If the URL doesn't match, then it's probably a phishing email.

For example:

Link Text: Click Here to Update Your Paypal Detail 


Another good practice when checking the validity of a link is to look out for an SSL certificate at the beginning of the URL. This will show as https oppose to just http. An SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), when installed on a web server allows secure connections from a web server to a browser.

  1. Check the company branding in the email

Phishing emails will try to mimic well-known brands in an attempt to gain your trust and get you to let your guard down, whether you use those services or not.

If you receive an email from a company that you haven’t subscribed to, that’s probably because it’s a phishing email trying to impersonate that company.

You can easily catch these emails out by comparing them to ones you’ve received before from the company, do the logos match up? Are there glaring differences between the two?

How does our phishing training help secure your organisation?

Our award-winning Think Before You Click campaign is an effective way of teaching your employees about the dangers of phishing emails and how to avoid becoming a victim.

The simulated phishing campaigns allow you to evaluate the threat level phishing could pose to your organisation through the use of tailored phishing exercises, and our engaging training courses and awareness materials that reinforce all the key learning points.

You can find out more about our phishing training here.

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