How to Spot a Phishing Email

Short answer: Hover over hyperlinks and look in the lower-left of your browser to verify the address (eg: URL) that the hyperlink is going to (check out the Anatomy of a URL if you don’t know what a URL is). If the name of the link and the address don’t match, or the domain name the link is going to looks wrong, don’t click it.

recognize phishing

Long answer:

“Phishing” is a sinister way malware tries to trick you into giving it your password.

Here’s how it works. An email gets sent out (spammed) to thousands of people with what looks like a normal link in it. These links used to be for things like “make your penis larger!” but over the years they’ve grown more savvy. Recently they’ve been saying stuff like “here’s my resume” or “login to verify your account.” Sometimes they’ll pose as if they’re from something familiar: PayPal, eBay, Google, etc.

A small percentage of the folks that get the spam will click the link. The link goes to what looks like a normal/official webpage, and it asks them to put in their password. They do so. The malware then uses their password to login to their email account and send the email out to everyone in their address book. And so on and so forth.

Your best defense against phishing is your wits. You may have heard the common advice to not click any links or attachments in email that you don’t recognize, aren’t expecting, or look fishy. But more and more malware is become savvy and posing itself as if it were legitimate email from someone you know (some of them even have decent english grammar).

Here’s one piece knowledge that will aid you as you confront the potential of receiving phishing emails:

Whenever you see a hyperlink (in an email or on the web), hover your mouse over it (see image above). Notice in the lower-left-hand corner of your web browser it shows you the actual “URL” (address) where the link would take you. If the link says one thing but the actual URL is something different: chances are it’s phishing. For example, if the email appears to be from PayPal, and the hyperlink says PayPal, but the actual URL is to anything other than PayPal, then best to be safe and not click it.

In the case of the screenshot above, the actual URL that shows when I hover over the link goes to Right off, the domain name looks odd. But to be sure I can go to and type in the domain name.

When I do that for, sure enough the results show it as unsafe:


So to stay safe and help you decide whether or not to click a link, make a habit of hovering over links in email and verifying the URL before clicking them.

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