Spotting the Red Flags: How to Tell if an Email is Spam and Phishing Scams

How to Tell if an Email is Spam and Phishing Scams

Being a small business owner or entrepreneur has its challenges. One big worry is the constant threat of spam and phishing emails. If you fall for these scams, you can lose money or have your sensitive data stolen.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss how to spot and deal with spam and phishing scams to keep your business safe. We’ll talk about how IT can help protect your email systems, give tips on teaching your team about how to tell if an email is spam and phishing scams, and share real-world examples to show why staying alert is important.

Understanding the Importance of Identifying Spam and Phishing Emails

Email scams are more than annoying; they can seriously harm businesses. They can lead to malware infections and data breaches. According to the FBI, U.S. businesses lost over $1.8 billion to email scams in 2020. Small businesses, which often lack strong cybersecurity, are especially at risk.

Consequences of falling victim to email scams:

  • Financial Loss: Scammers can steal money directly from business accounts.
  • Data Breaches: Confidential information can be exposed, leading to legal issues and loss of trust.
  • Disruption of Operations: Malware can cripple business operations, leading to downtime and lost productivity.

Recognizing the seriousness of these threats is the first step in safeguarding your business.

Implementing Best Practices

You may have an IT department, a single person who is in charge of ensuring everyone’s technology stays up and running, or you might just have a contractor you call when you need to get new technology online. Whatever your setup, ensure they are taking steps to safeguard your business against spam and phishing scams. This includes setting up robust email filters, regularly updating security software, and staying informed about the latest threats. Additionally, they should be conducting periodic security audits to identify and fix vulnerabilities. Involving your IT support in both strategic planning and day-to-day operations can greatly enhance your business’s resilience against these common cyber threats.

Your IT team should also be conducting regular training for the entire team, ensuring they understand how to spot and not fall for cybersecurity threats. They should ensure all employees are aware of potential threats and know how to respond to them. They stay updated with the latest trends and threat intelligence, allowing them to address new vulnerabilities proactively.

Proactive measures IT can take:

  • Implement Spam Filters: Advanced spam filters can block many malicious emails before they reach your inbox.
  • Regular Security Audits: Conducting periodic security audits helps identify vulnerabilities.
  • Employee Training: Educating employees about the latest threats and safe email practices is essential.
  • Updating Security Protocols: Regularly updating software and security protocols ensures protection against new threats.

By taking these steps, IT can create a robust defense system that mitigates the risks associated with email scams.

If your business does not have a dedicated IT department, Check Off Your List offers comprehensive fractional IT services tailored to your needs. Our experts can help set up secure email systems, establish best practices, and ensure your team is protected against potential threats. With our proactive approach, you can focus on growing your business while we handle your IT security.

How to Tell if an Email is Spam and Phishing Scams

How to Teach Your Team to Determine Spam Emails

Educating your team on how to recognize suspicious emails is crucial. Here are some tips to help them spot spam:

Tips for recognizing suspicious emails:

  • Unfamiliar Senders: Be wary of emails from unknown or unexpected sources.
  • Poor Grammar and Spelling: Many spam emails contain obvious grammatical errors.
  • Unusual Requests: Requests for urgent actions should raise red flags.

Verifying the email source:

  • Check the Email Domain: Look at the email domain name and google it to verify its legitimacy.
  • Verify Phone Numbers: If the email contains a phone number, verify it by googling the company phone number.
  • Report Suspicious Emails: Encourage employees to report any suspicious emails to IT for further investigation.

These steps can significantly reduce the likelihood of falling victim to email scams.

How to Identify Phishing Scams

Phishing scams are designed to trick recipients into revealing personal information, such as passwords or credit card details. They often use tactics to create a sense of urgency or fear.

Common characteristics of phishing emails:

  • Urgent Language: Phishing emails often use urgent language to prompt immediate action.
  • Requests for Personal Information: Be cautious of emails asking for sensitive information.
  • Suspicious Links: Hover over links to check the URL before clicking.

Examples of typical phishing tactics:

  • Fake Landing Pages: Scammers may create legitimate-looking landing pages. Always check URLs carefully.
    Tips for Checking URLs:
    • Impersonation: Scammers may impersonate trusted entities, like banks or service providers. They often use convincing tactics such as fake emails, phone calls, or websites to appear legitimate. Always verify the authenticity of any communication before sharing personal details.
    • Hover Over Links: Before clicking, hover your mouse over the link to preview the actual URL. Ensure it matches the context of the email and directs to a legitimate site.
    • Check for HTTPS: Legitimate websites, especially those involving transactions, should have a URL starting with “https://”. The ‘s’ stands for secure.
    • Look for Typo-squatting: Be cautious of URLs with slight misspellings or extra characters that mimic legitimate websites. Scammers often use domain names that are very similar to real ones.
    • Verify with Official Websites: If in doubt, go to the official website by typing the URL directly into the web browser rather than clicking the link in the email.
    • Use URL Scanners: Tools like Google’s Safe Browsing, VirusTotal, or other URL scanning services can help check if a URL is safe before visiting it.
    • Cross-check with the Company’s Contact Information: Verify the link by cross-referencing it with contact information available on the company’s official website or trusted sources.
How to Tell if an Email is Spam and Phishing Scams

Exercising Caution When Clicking Links in Emails

One of the most dangerous actions you can take is clicking on links in suspicious emails. These links can lead to malicious websites designed to steal your information.

When you receive emails requesting you to pay or update your account information, it is crucial to exercise caution before clicking on any embedded links. These emails can often be phishing attempts designed to steal sensitive personal information or install malware on your device.

Clicking on these fraudulent links could lead to malicious websites that appear legitimate but are intended to capture your login credentials, credit card details, or other confidential data. To protect yourself, the safest course of action is to log into the service provider’s official website directly by typing the URL into your web browser or contact their customer service using a verified phone number. This ensures that you interact with a genuine entity, not a deceptive impersonator.

Why clicking on links in emails is dangerous:

  • Malware Installation: Clicking on a link can trigger the download of malware onto your device.
  • Phishing Websites: Links may direct you to fraudulent websites that mimic legitimate ones.

Steps to take if you receive an email asking for payment updates or logins:

  • Verify the Request: Contact the company directly using a known phone number or website.
  • Do Not Reply: Avoid responding to the email, as this confirms your email address is active.
  • Report the Email: Report the suspicious email to IT or a designated contact within your organization.

By following these steps, you can avoid falling prey to phishing scams and protect your business’s sensitive information.

Case Study

A stark reminder of the dangers posed by email scams can be found in a real-world example from St. Ambrose Catholic Parish in Brunswick, Ohio. In 2019, email hackers exploited vulnerabilities in the parish’s email system to steal $1.75 million. This case underscores the importance of robust email security measures and ongoing vigilance.

Lessons learned from the St. Ambrose case:

  • Importance of Verification: Always verify the legitimacy of email requests, especially those involving financial transactions.
  • Employee Training: Regular training can help employees recognize and report suspicious emails.
  • Enhanced Security Measures: Implementing advanced security measures can prevent unauthorized access to sensitive information.

By learning from this case, businesses can better prepare themselves to avoid similar pitfalls.


Being vigilant about email security in Today’s digital age is more important than ever. Understanding how to identify spam and phishing scams can protect your business from significant risks. Remember to continuously educate your team about the latest threats and encourage them to report any suspicious emails.

Each team member plays a critical role in maintaining a secure email environment. Together, we can create a safer digital landscape for businesses everywhere.

Schedule a free consultation call with our experts to get personalized advice and insights. Stay informed, stay secure, and protect your business from email threats. Book your call now!

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