While phishing is not a new form of cyberattack, it remains a growing concern as threat actors invent increasingly sophisticated ways to reach inboxes and infiltrate digital devices. How do you even begin to defend yourself against these sneaky attacks? Let’s explore the seven ways to spot phishing emails at a glance, as well as what to do if and when a phishing email casts a line into your inbox.

What Are Phishing Emails?

The definition of phishing is straightforward: fraudulent emails that appear to be from a reputable source, but contain links with the intention of stealing valuable personal information or infecting your device with malicious software known as malware. Phishing as a form of cyberattack has been around since the mid-1990s when hackers targeted internet pioneer company AOL with email and instant messaging. They used these tools to impersonate AOL employees and steal user passwords, eventually taking over the victims’ accounts.

Today, 90% of data breaches are a direct result of online phishing tactics, making this one of the most common forms of cyberattack. This form of social engineering is particularly easy for cybercriminals to execute, and unfortunately, many people take the bait.

3 Common Phishing Scams

Phishing scams aren’t just emails from princes in far-off countries promising to give you a huge sum of money if you’ll help them out. Modern cybercriminals are getting increasingly better at creating believable fakes. Phishing scams can take on a number of different forms. 

Typically, scam emails will ask you to provide information, request your immediate attention to solve an issue (hacked account or unpaid bill), or provide a button that takes you to a fake landing page. Here are some examples of the three most common kinds of fraudulent email attacks.

Email Phishing

You’ve probably heard of email phishing, and it’s exactly as it sounds. These are typically emails that copy a legitimate domain name — like Amazon or Google, for example — and they usually claim that you need to reset your password, or that there’s other unusual activity on your account that you need to take care of, prompting you to click on a link where sensitive information will be collected.

Spear Phishing

Spear phishing is much more targeted than generic email phishing, and is often more successful as a result. In these attacks, criminals often already have access to certain information, like the person’s name, place of employment, or specific information about their job role, and may use more colloquial language to sound more convincing than typical phishing emails.


Another common tactic is whaling, in which a scammer pretends to be a CEO or other executive-level leader who urgently needs something from the victim. These emails are less likely to involve malicious phishing links. Instead, the scammer may ask the victim to send money ASAP or to buy gift cards with the promise of reimbursement.

7 Ways To Spot a Phishing Email

So how can you differentiate legitimate emails from malicious ones? Knowing the difference isn’t easy, especially when you’re dealing with a jam-packed inbox and busy schedule. Thankfully, there are seven ways that you can learn how to avoid phishing.

Subject Line

Ask yourself if the subject line is relevant to you and your recent activity. Check to see if it matches the message context in the body of the email. Common phishing subject lines often refer to a hasty password change request, an online order, bank account info, a Dropbox link or revised company policies.

Email Address in the “From” Section

Always double-check the sender’s email address to determine if the sender is someone you actually know and trust. Did you sign up for this account? Are you expecting an email from this company? 

In addition to the sender’s name, look at the sender’s email address for subtle changes or misspellings in the domain name. Always make sure the company’s domain name is correct before clicking on the contents within. Not sure if the email is impersonating another company? Hover your mouse over the sender’s name to see if it matches the sender email address.

Email Address(es) Included in the “To” Section 

If the email is addressed to a group of individuals, confirm that you know the other people on the thread. If you don’t recognize the other recipients, it could be fraud.

Date Line

Observe what time the email was sent. Was it sent in the wee hours of the morning, outside of business hours? If so, that’s a huge red flag.

Email Body Content

If the email elicits a sense of urgency or requires you to take immediate action, it’s likely a phishing email. Other warning signs to look for include poor grammar, spelling errors, and asking for personal info. It’s not commonplace for a credible company to ask for personal information such as login credentials and banking info via email.


Always hover over an embedded email link before clicking to determine if the URL matches what’s written. Carefully check for misspellings and inconsistencies in the link. If things don’t match up, you guessed it—it’s likely a scam. Rather than clicking on the link, you can always sign into your account through a trusted, pre-existing source (website or app) to see if any alerts in your account align with the email’s claim.


Treat attachments with extreme caution and ask yourself if the attachment makes sense with the email’s context. Today, most companies share files through secure tools such as SharePoint rather than email attachments. If this rings true for your workflow, receiving this type of email is a red flag. Whatever you do, NEVER download suspicious attachments — no matter how curious you are. 

How to React to a Phishing Email

Now that you know what phishing is, what some of the most common phishing scams are, and the seven ways to spot one out in the wild, it’s just as important to know what to do when you inevitably come across one.

Don’t Open or Click On Suspicious Emails

Keep it simple—when you get an email that you weren’t expecting, and you’re not sure that it’s legitimate, just don’t click on it. Feel free to delete it or add it to your junk folder, but remember, don’t click on “unsubscribe.” Hitting unsubscribe on a phishing email lets scammers know that your email is valid, which poses a serious security threat to your computer. Doing so could lead to infection of your device with malware like spyware, ransomware, viruses, or worms, and it could also allow hackers to steal your credentials.

Report Unusual Emails to Your IT Team

If you do suspect a phishing email, make sure to contact your IT team so that they can investigate the security issue further and prevent others within your organization from falling victim to it. Some vendors and companies (like PayPal) also request that you forward any scam emails that appear to come from them to their fraud team so they can help combat the issue.

IronEdge Helps You Prevent Phishing

Help your employees to stay alert for common attacks like phishing scams. Knowing the warning signs of common fraudulent emails — as well as how to react to them — is essential to the safety and security of your entire organization. After all, it takes just one wrong click to unleash chaos and cause significant damage to your online accounts and data. By teaching your team how to avoid phishing, you’ll be able to keep the criminals at bay the next time you receive a fraudulent email.

But let’s face it: continuous training and other security measures can be time-consuming or cost-prohibitive. When you partner with IronEdge, we handle all of your cybersecurity needs so that you can focus on other important aspects of your work. And with headlines full of security breaches every day, no company can afford to take online risks lightly.

Our IT specialists are here to answer your questions and ensure your company remains protected. Reach out to us today to schedule a free consultation.