For a time in the early Noughties, it was debatable whether email had a future. A torrent of spam messages threatened to undermine public confidence in email as a communication platform. Even today, with highly advanced spam filter algorithms in place to protect our inboxes, junk mail remains a pernicious problem. According to Kaspersky, 56 per cent of global mail traffic is still spam.
The good news is that the UK isn’t a major contributor. We’re responsible for just one per cent of international spam, compared to Germany (five per cent) and America (12 per cent). However, we do endure more than our fair share of junk messages because a high proportion of spam email is written in English. And as inbox filters have become more sophisticated, so have the spammers’ attempts to trick us.
These are some of the most common tricks used by spam email senders, followed by ways to stay safe:
High-profile sender names
The trick: It’s not uncommon to get an email from Kylie Jenner or Will Young. Spammers hope people will subconsciously recognise the name and consequently trust the sender, making them more likely to click on links to malware-infested websites.
The solution: On a desktop device, hover your mouse over the sender’s name and look at the email address. If it’s a lengthy string of alphanumeric gibberish followed by a strange country code top-level domain (.ru, .cn, etc), it’s probably not from a famous celebrity after all.
The trick: Topical junk mail is a growing problem. When Apple unveiled new products in March, there was a tenfold increase in the number of attempts to redirect message recipients to scam websites. Similar issues surrounded dating platforms around Valentine’s Day.
The solution: Be especially vigilant of topical emails at specific times of the year. Has a one-time colleague really sent you an invitation to Elf Yourself? It’s often worth typing a few words of a dubious message’s contents into Google to see if other people have logged it as spam.
The trick: If you received an email from Amazom.co.uk, would you instantly notice the spelling error? Some genuine companies have invested heavily in securing domains which look or sound similar to their own, but spammers are snapping up these cheap domains as well.
The solution: Be attentive! Don’t open an email based on a half-glance at the sender. Check for warning signs like missing graphics, spelling mistakes in the subject line or the use of $ symbols. And above all, never open attachments unless you’re certain who sent them.
The trick: There’s been a significant rise in fraudulent notifications. Recipients are asked to verify an account, update details or fix a security issue. Dodgy links redirect victims to false authorisation forms, requesting personal data which is then used for fraud or theft.
The solution: Unless you’re midway through opening a new account, be suspicious of any unsolicited “payment declined” or “please confirm” messages. Approach ecommerce or bank messages cautiously: if in doubt, phone the company rather than communicating via email.
The trick: One of the fastest-growing spam email trends involves claiming the recipient has viewed illegal material, or that video footage of them watching porn will be published online. This can only be avoided if a ransom is paid, usually in untraceable Bitcoin.
The solution: Other than taping up laptop webcams or living a chaste and wholesome life, the best solution to these messages is simply to ignore them. Spam emails like these are sent by the million, and there’s very little chance the sender has any evidence to support their claim.