How to spot an email scam: 6 tips to keep you safe
An invitation dropped into the Podium Coaching inbox the other day. It was a request for Podium’s Halina St James to speak at a university in England.
Halina is a member of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers, so the request was not unusual.
But it was a scam. It was a variation on an email fraud that a lot of people are aware of, and some have fallen victim to.
So we thought we’d devote this blog to a list of warning signs when you receive an email that you are uncertain about.
1 – Look at the language, grammar and punctuation.
Halina’s invitation started:
“I am Prof. Joe Elliot from the KEELE UNIVERSITY Here in London UK. We want you to be our guest Speaker at this Year Bird college Seminar.”
The style, and the eccentric capitalization and spacing, is a real give-away. Over-emphatic language and heavy capitalization are good clues that a letter is a scam.
2 – Look for anything that seems odd.
Because we lived in England, we know that Keele University is not based in London.
3 – Look carefully at the email address.
Our invitation asked us to reply to universityof firstname.lastname@example.org. Would a university have a gmail address? Unlikely.
3 – Do a little research.
A quick online search showed no Prof. Joe Elliot on the staff at Keele. The letter we received also said the website was being updated – but a quick trip online proved this to be untrue.
4 – Alert your friends.
Enough of our friends have been caught to persuade us that even smart people sometimes fall for email scams and hoaxes. In this case the author of the email indicated Halina was being approached because of her profile on the legitimate CAPS website. Maybe others in the organization are being targeted, too.
5 – Do not open attachments or click on links.
Sometimes the email is bait to get you to a fake website where you are asked to give personal information. Identity theft is a massive problem.
6 – Be skeptical.
If an offer sounds too good to be true – it probably is. The whole process of figuring out our invitation was a scam didn’t take very long. The most important thing is to read carefully with your head, not your heart.
If you apply these tests and are still unsure, you might want to check out some of the web sites dedicated to exposing scams and hoaxes. The RCMP has some great information about scams, particularly the ones purporting to come from banks. Hoax-slayer is another good source of information.