How can I tell if an email is a phishing email?
I received an email that says it's from Linode, but it doesn't seem to apply to my account. How can I tell if this email is legitimate?
Noticing that the contents of the email don't apply to your account is a great start towards determining whether an email is a phishing attempt or not. We have some discussion regarding phishing emails that impersonate Linode in this Community Questions post, but I also wanted to provide some general tips in this answer that can help you to identify phishing emails coming from anywhere.
What is phishing?
Phishing emails are an attempt to gain personal information or funds by posing as a legitimate query. This could be an email that looks similar to your boss' email address that says "this is an urgent matter, please send me $250 in Visa gift cards", or it could be more detailed and look almost exactly like a legitimate message. Some phishing emails are easy to spot, because the email address sending them is unrecognizable and there is a very clearly malicious link in the body of the email. Others, though, are more difficult to spot.
What should I look for in an email to determine if it's phishing?
Some questions you should ask yourself are:
- Am I expecting this email? (For example, would the CEO of your company typically email you a request to urgently purchase gift cards and mail them to a random address?)
- Does this email look like it was meant for me? (If it mentions a different email address, name, or username than your own, you should be suspicious!)
- Do I recognize the sender of the message? Does the first and last name match up with the email address itself?
- If there are hyperlinks in the email, do they go where they say they'll go? (Hovering over the link in a suspicious email, without clicking on the link, will provide you with a pop-up that shows the specific URL the link goes to. If it doesn't look like a legitimate URL, don't click. An example would be
- Is the email asking me for sensitive information, like my passwords or tax ID number?
Things do get a bit more complicated when spoofing is involved. Similar to spam phone calls that impersonate the phone numbers of legitimate businesses, spoofing is where the sender of a phishing email makes it look like they're sending an email from a legitimate address. The recent phishing emails impersonating Linode were made with spoofing, so the sender address does appear as [email protected] Looking at the email headers is a great way to tell whether spoofing is occurring. This article provides a great introduction into how spoofing can be used for malicious purposes.
This resource from the FBI provides some additional safety tips and information regarding phishing. These tips are helpful to have on-hand the next time you receive a suspicious-looking message. And, of course, you can always reach out to us - we'll be happy to let you know whether the email you received is legitimate.