3 Ways to Spot the Difference Between Spam & Phishing

by Trava, Cyber Risk Management

It is important to know the difference between spam emails and phishing emails so that you can take right steps.

We’ve all opened our inboxes to unwelcome emails that we immediately want to delete.

Chances are that at some point you’ve received:

  • emails with misspelled subject lines that reek of scams
  • emails that say “Re: [Subject]” when you haven’t even inquired about that subject before
  • emails saying you can get free products by clicking on a strange link
  • emails from a colleague asking you to send them your quarterly reports

The types of emails above are examples of phishing attempts.

Although most people know that both spam and phishing emails are problematic and potentially dangerous, many don’t know the difference between the two.

It is important to know the difference between spam emails and phishing emails so that you can take appropriate action to keep your information and your computer safe.

What is spam?

Spam refers to any unsolicited messages or information that is sent out in bulk on the internet.

While there are many forms of spam, the most common is spam email, also known as junk email. According to Spam Laws, researchers estimate that over 73% of global emails are spam and spam accounts for 14.5 billion messages globally every day.

While many email services have measures in place to weed out any spam messages you receive, sometimes these emails still get through to your inbox.

Oftentimes spam emails contain malicious links that can expose your computer to harmful malware attacks that can infect your computer and steal your digital information.

What is phishing?

Phishing emails are sent with the intent to steal data and sensitive information from their victims.

Phishing emails are ones where the sender poses as a trusted organization or individual that email users have already interacted with to trick them into sending private information that can be used for harm like login credentials, tax documents, credit card information, and/or social security numbers.

After applying to a job at a specific organization, you might receive a phishing email saying that your application has been approved and all you need to do is send your social security number, birthday, and address to complete the application process.

You may receive an email that seems like it has been sent by your boss or a colleague asking you to download an attachment that actually contains malware designed to steal sensitive digital information from your computer.

You could receive an email that looks like it was sent by your bank asking you to send your account numbers and passwords so they can verify your identity or “protect” you from identity theft.

Although antivirus software and anti-phishing software solutions are the most effective ways to protect your data from phishing emails, you can also avoid phishing attacks by:

  • Being aware of phishing scams so that you can spot them quickly
  • Remember that banks and other reputable institutions do not solicit personal information like passwords by email
  • Check email addresses carefully when you receive emails that you are hesitant about opening. They may come from email addresses that are slightly different from the addresses of your employers, for instance.
  • Report phishing emails

Learn more about cybersecurity terms below!

3 Ways to Spot the Difference Between Spam and Phishing Emails

Although spam and phishing emails seem similar, and many spam emails are used as a conduit to expose people to phishing campaigns, the two are very different.

Here are three ways you can spot the difference between the two so that you can address them accordingly.

1. Look at the details

Spam messages prioritize quantity over quality. This is why there are so many spam emails that contain spelling errors or that don’t quite make sense. These emails are sent in bulk to a large volume of people, so they typically have minimal details so that they can appeal to a wider audience.

On the other hand, phishing emails tend to be very detailed. These emails target specific individuals, so they contain details that could trick even the brightest individuals into sharing personal information.

2. Check the sender

Another way to spot the difference between spam and phishing emails is to look carefully at the email’s sender.

Spam emails are unsolicited, so they tend to come from people or organizations that the reader is not familiar with at all. In this way, spam emails are typically easier to spot and flag.

On the contrary, phishing emails tend to be disguised as an individual or institution that the reader trusts and has a relationship with already. It wouldn’t be abnormal to receive an email from your employer, your bank, or an organization where you routinely donate money, so if you’re not careful, you might believe these emails actually come from these individuals and organizations and share personal information.

3. Consider the intent

One of the most significant distinguishing factors between spam and phishing emails is their intent.

Spam emails are mass produced sales attempts. They are intended to advertise, so they will typically contain an unsolicited ad for a product or service.

Phishing emails are fake messages sent as part of an attack. They are intended to gain personal information, so they will typically have attachments containing malware or they will solicit data or information from readers rather than money.

Although spam emails and phishing emails are different, they are both cyber threats that you need to take seriously.

Book a demo with Trava to see how we can help you avoid these unwanted emails and protect you from cybersecurity threats.


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