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How To Quickly Identify Phishing Emails (13 Red Flags)

Clicking on links or responding to phishing emails can put you at risk of identity theft, hacking, or fraud. Check for these red flags before you react.

Clicking on links or responding to phishing emails can put you at risk of identity theft, hacking, or fraud. Check for these red flags before you react.

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      How Do You Know If You Opened a Phishing Email? 

      Email is the most common method that scammers use to target victims — and it’s only getting more dangerous. Many phishing emails look exactly like emails from legitimate institutions, creating a sense of urgency that pressures you to act quickly — such as by claiming that you’ll lose access to your bank account.

      According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [*]:

      Americans lost more than $430 million to email scams in 2023 alone — a 31% increase from the year before.

      While we all receive spam and potential scam emails, responding to or clicking on malicious links in phishing emails could accidentally give scammers access to your device, accounts, or data.

      In this guide, we’ll cover the most common warning signs of phishing emails to help you avoid getting scammed. If you’ve received a suspicious email, read this before you do anything else. 

      How To Identify a Phishing Email: 13 Red Flags

      1. It’s sent from a public or free email domain
      2. The “From” name and email domain don’t match
      3. The sender has spoofed a company’s domain name
      4. You get a warning from your email provider 
      5. You’re told there’s an issue with your account
      6. The email includes suspicious links or attachments
      7. You receive an invoice that you don’t recognize
      8. The email includes a too-good-to-be-true offer or giveaway
      9. You’re threatened with blackmail or told that “you’ve been recorded”
      10. It includes a generic greeting
      11. You’re asked to provide personal or sensitive information
      12. There are spelling and grammatical errors
      13. Logos and images are fuzzy or low-quality

      Email is the perfect contact method for scammers, as it's relatively cheap and allows them to target thousands of victims simultaneously. Look for these common scam warning signs before you react or respond to a suspicious email: 

      1. It’s sent from a public or free email domain

      Screenshot of a PayPal phishing email with an arrow pointing at the “from” email coming from a Gmail account
      Example of a phishing email sent from a Gmail account. Source: Pickr

      Seven out of 10 phishing emails come from free webmail providers like Google’s Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, Apple iCloud, Microsoft, and others [*]. 

      Anyone can register a new email address via these providers, with very little oversight or control. For example, someone who wants to trick you into thinking they work at your bank might register a Gmail address that includes the bank’s name.

      What you need to know: 

      Employees don’t use free email domains. Genuine emails from banks, tech companies, and other institutions always come from the organization’s official domain. If you can’t see the sender’s email address, click on the “From” name to reveal from where it’s being sent.

      🛡️ Get protection against phishing scams, identity theft, and fraud — for free. Aura’s all-in-one safety solution protects your most sensitive information and accounts, and can even prevent you from disclosing information to scammers. Try Aura free for 14 days.

      2. The “From” name and email domain don’t match

      Email providers let users choose the name that recipients see in the “From” field. While most legitimate users simply type in their given names, scammers can use this feature to impersonate people and companies.

      For example, phishers could update their “From” name to display “Chase Tech Support'' or “Microsoft Security” — in hopes that they can convince you to share login details or other valuable data. 

      What you need to know:

      A mismatched sender name and email address is a massive red flag of a phishing email. Again, you can click on the name to view the sender’s details. 

      3. The sender has spoofed a company’s domain name

      Screenshot of an email claiming to be from Google with an arrow pointing at the spoofed email address of
      Example of a phishing email in which scammers spoofed the Google domain. Source: Reddit

      “Spoofing” occurs when scammers use versions of names or domains that look similar to companies that you trust in order to trick you into thinking their messages are legitimate. 

      For example, scammers could send emails from a spoofed website URL that might contain a slight misspelling of the company’s name (such as “Goggl” instead of “Google”) or appear legitimate (for example, “”).  

      What you need to know:

      Most secure email providers authenticate messages by using technologies like Sender Policy Framework (SPF) or DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM), and should warn you of attacks. However, it’s important to double-check the domain on any sensitive email, and look for security warnings or account password resets. 

      4. You get a warning from your email provider 

      Your email provider may flag incoming messages as phishing scams — usually with an alert right above the message warning you that it may be a scam. While some legitimate emails may accidentally get flagged, you should be especially careful if your email provider is warning you about a potential phishing attack. 

      💡 Related: What To Do If You Click On a Phishing Link

      5. You’re told there’s an issue with your account

      Screenshot of an Amazon phishing email claiming you’ve been locked out of your account and need to click a link
      Example of an Amazon phishing email pressuring you to click on a malicious link. Source: Reddit

      Technical support and email security scams are very common social engineering tactics used across emails, text messages, phone calls, and even social media direct messages (DMs). Scammers send emails with subject lines that claim you’ll lose access to an account or could lose money if you don’t act quickly (and click on a link). 

      What you need to know: 

      If you think an account has been compromised, it’s always better to log in directly through the company’s official website or mobile app. This way, you can be sure the alert is real.

      6. The email includes suspicious links or attachments

      Almost all phishing emails include either a link to a fake website or a phone number to call. Phishing links are especially dangerous, as they can:

      • Send you to a fake login page that steals your password and login credentials
      • Send you to a fake payment screen that captures your credit card, banking, or financial information
      • Infect your device with a virus — such as ransomware, spyware, or other malware

      What you need to know:

      Before clicking on a link, hover your cursor over the button or text (or long-click on a mobile device) to see where it’s taking you. If it’s not the website you expected, it’s a scam. For even more safety, install antivirus software with Safe Browsing tools on your device that can protect you against malware.

      🥇 Get award-winning protection against viruses, hackers, and scams. Aura combines powerful antivirus, Safe Browsing tools, a virtual private network (VPN), and AI-powered scam protection with identity monitoring, 24/7 support, and up to $5 million in insurance coverage. Try Aura free for 14 days.

      7. You receive an invoice you don’t recognize

      Screenshot of a phishing email claiming to be an invoice for Norton Life-Lock Support with a fake phone number to call
      Example of scammers sending a fake invoice via email to trick victims into calling them. Source: Reddit

      If you receive an invoice for a purchase you don’t remember making, don’t click on it or call the number listed for customer support. This is a common tactic scammers use to make you believe that one of your accounts has been hacked or lure you into a phone call. 

      What you need to know:

      Check your bank statements directly via your mobile banking app or the bank’s website to see if a charge has actually been made. If it has, you can report the fraudulent charge and get it refunded. If nothing appears, you’ll know it’s a scam. 

      8. The email includes a too-good-to-be-true offer or giveaway

      Many phishing messages use commercial offers and giveaways to convince victims to click on malicious links. Some scammers may even set up spoofed websites or social media pages to make their “giveaways” seem more legitimate. 

      But if you click on the link, you’ll be asked to either provide sensitive information or pay “fees” or “taxes” to release the prize. No matter what you do, the prize will never materialize — and the scammers will disappear with whatever you’ve provided them. 

      What you need to know:

      Be especially cautious of unsolicited emails that offer financial advice or large cryptocurrency gains. Complex schemes like the pig butchering scam may involve cybercriminals sending you real money to prove their finance platform really works — only to steal everything from you once you’re convinced.

      💡 Related: How To Spot Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams (Before You Lose Money)

      9. You’re threatened with blackmail or told that “you’ve been recorded”

      Screenshot of a scam email claiming that the recipient has been filmed using their own camera
      Example of phishers claiming to have access to your device’s camera and microphone. Source: Reddit

      Scammers may try to convince you that they have embarrassing videos of you or incriminating evidence of wrongdoing, and threaten to publish it if you don’t cooperate (usually by sending them money).

      There are several different versions of this phishing attack. Some claim that the victim’s device has illegal pornography on it. Others claim to have recorded the user doing embarrassing things. In almost all cases, these are empty threats. 

      What you need to know:

      Blackmail emails are almost always scams. Fraudsters send millions of these, hoping one lands in the inbox of someone with a guilty conscience who may act without thinking. The majority of people can safely ignore these messages and block the sender.

      10. It includes a generic greeting

      Legitimate companies have sophisticated email systems that allow them to personalize the emails they send. For example, most banks and finance institutions begin every email by addressing the recipient by name.

      Phishing emails rarely include this level of personalization because it costs money to implement. However, new generative artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities could change this — giving scammers a cheap, easy way to personalize phishing emails at high volume.

      What you need to know:

      If you receive an email from an organization with which you regularly do business, it should include some level of personalization. Legitimate emails from companies you know do not start with a generic greeting like, “Dear sir or madam.”

      💡 Related: How To Tell If an Email is From a Scammer

      11. You’re asked to provide personal or sensitive information

      Screenshot of a Binance phishing email claiming withdrawals have been disabled until you click a link to update your information
      Example of a phishing email asking you to click on a link and verify sensitive information. Source: Reddit

      Legitimate organizations will not ask you to provide or verify personal or sensitive data via email (or by clicking on a link in an unsolicited message). If someone claiming to work with an organization you know asks you to send information over unsecured email, it may be a phishing scam.

      Be especially careful during highly sensitive or high-value transactions, such as real estate transactions, loan approvals, or business emails — as these are prime targets for scammers. 

      What you need to know: 

      You should never send sensitive data — like your credit card, bank account, or Social Security Number (SSN) — over email. Even if it’s not a phishing scam, it’s still probably a violation of that company’s data privacy policy. If asked for this data, call the organization directly to confirm.

      12. There are spelling and grammatical errors

      The authors of phishing emails often come from foreign territories and do not speak English as a native language. You may notice spelling errors, poor grammar, and unusual word choices in the email message.

      These are major red flags because legitimate organizations spend a lot of time and money approving communications before they go out. No responsible business would distribute an email that is filled with spelling and grammatical errors.

      What you need to know:

      While phishing emails used to be much easier to spot, generative AI tools like Large Language Models (LLMs) are very good at translating content. Scammers can now write believable, high-quality messages in almost any language by using public AI-powered tools. Therefore, this red flag may become less prominent as more scammers start using these tools.

      💡 Related: How To Spot and Avoid AI Voice Scams

      13. Logos and images are fuzzy or low-quality

      When a legitimate organization sends an email, it usually formats the email to look like an official communication. It may include the company logo and similar images to express the company brand through its email messaging.

      Hackers try to do this, too; but they don’t always have access to high-resolution imagery. As a result, the logos and other images used in phishing scams may look unusual. They may not display correctly, especially if you examine them closely on a large screen.

      If you receive an email that contains low-quality imagery, be cautious. It may not always mean the message is a scam, but it does suggest something is wrong.


      What Can Happen If You Open a Phishing Email? 

      Simply opening a phishing mail will not compromise your device or accounts. In most cases, you are safe as long as you don’t click on links, download attachments, or respond to the message in any way.

      If you open a scam email and then delete it without clicking on any links, you are safe. If you only became suspicious after downloading a file, clicking on a link, or responding to the message, you are at risk of hacking and identity theft.

      As a safety precaution, you should disconnect from your wireless network and scan your device for malware or viruses. Then, make a secure physical backup of your most important files — such as your documents, photos, and videos. Change your passwords, and make sure your accounts are secured with multi-factor authentication (MFA).

      The bottom line: Engaging with a spam or phishing email in any way can put your identity, online accounts, and even your finances at risk. Consider protecting yourself and your family with an all-in-one digital security service. Try Aura for free today → 

      What To Do If You Receive a Phishing Email

      • Don’t click on links or download attachments. While opening a phishing email is relatively harmless, clicking on links or downloading attachments can infect your device with malware or give hackers access to your online accounts. 
      • Check the URL before entering passwords and sensitive information. Instead of clicking on links, type out URLs fully in your web browser. This ensures that you won’t be tricked into entering information on a spoofed website.
      • Report the email to the proper authorities and the impersonated company. Most tech companies, email providers, and finance institutions have a special address for users to send phishing attempts. Forward the message to that address so that they can take action to protect their brand from hackers trying to impersonate them.
      • Delete the message, and block the sender. After you have reported the phishing email, you can safely delete it from your inbox. Block the sender so that you don’t receive additional phishing emails from the same address. 
      • Scan your device for malware. Use an antimalware tool to scan your device for evidence of unauthorized activity. Make sure you use a paid, commercial antivirus program from a reputable company that you trust.
      • Consider changing your passwords. Creating stronger, more complex passwords makes it much harder for scammers to break into your accounts. Consider using a password manager to automatically generate and store unique passwords for every account.
      • Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) on your accounts. This feature prevents hackers from accessing your account even if they know your password. Activate it for every account that supports it, especially sensitive bank and credit accounts.
      • Sign up for identity theft protection. Consider getting all-in-one digital protection from a reputable provider like Aura. Enjoy comprehensive security with real-time alerts delivered to you quickly, alongside White Glove Fraud Resolution support and a $1 million insurance policy against identity theft for every adult on your plan.

      How To Protect Yourself From Phishing Attacks 

      Scammers are always looking for new ways to circumvent spam filters and target victims with fake emails. Modern phishing emails may look legitimate, but their only purpose is to induce panic and trick you into making mistakes with the security of your sensitive data.

      Here are some of the things you can do to make sure you don’t become a victim:

      • Take your time before responding to suspicious emails. Phishing emails almost always try to create a sense of urgency. If you receive a message that makes you feel anxious or nervous, slow down and look for warning signs indicating that it’s a scam. 
      • Update your email provider’s spam filters. You may be able to configure your email provider’s spam filters to detect phishing emails and automatically route them to your junk folder.
      • Install antivirus software to scan attachments. Install an antivirus program on your device so it can verify email attachments before you open them. If you accidentally open suspicious attachments, your anti-phishing software can warn you and disable the malware.
      • Remove your information from data broker lists. Data brokers collect and sell information about people on the internet. Your information may be part of their database, and scammers can use it to send you highly targeted phishing messages.
      • Check if your email and other information is circulating on the Dark Web. If your personal data was included in a data breach, it may be available on the Dark Web. Hackers can purchase your information and use it to target you with phishing emails and other types of cyberattacks. Aura scans millions of Dark Web sites and forums for your most sensitive information and warns you if you’re at risk.

      Phishing is not the only way scammers target victims, but it is among the cheapest and easiest options they have. Email providers constantly update their filters to block emails from compromised servers, but that’s not enough to shield you from every phishing email.

      For stronger protection against phishing and cybercrime, you need an all-in-one safety solution that protects your identity and finances from fraudsters. Aura provides award-winning identity theft protection with anti-phishing features, a military grade virtual private network (VPN), Safe Browsing tools, AI-powered spam call blocking, 24/7 U.S.-based customer support, and more.

      Get award-winning protection from phishing, scams, and fraud. Try Aura free for 14 days.
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