Scam emails, also known as phishing emails, often feature legitimate company logos, return addresses, and even 1-800 phone numbers. They often use scare tactics to get people to provide their information.
Here are some things to check in any suspicious email. They follow the initials of a handy little acronym, SCAMD!:
S — Spelling and grammar. This is usually the first and best tip-off that something’s bogus. If you’re looking at an email with multiple spelling or grammar errors, it’s probably a scam.
C — Certified Mail. Certified AOL Mail is a feature designed to help you easily identify email that has been sent by AOL. In your inbox, you’ll see an AOL icon or green ribbon next to any AOL Certified Mail. Also, above the email details (above the From:, To:, and Subject box), you’ll see a banner that says AOL Certified Mail.
A — Asking for personal information. No legitimate company will email you requesting personal information such as your password or your social security number. If you have any suspicions about the email, don't click any links. Instead, go to the website of the company and use the “Contact Us” link to find a company’s phone number and call them. Don’t use the phone number provided in a suspicious email as it might be a fake number to collect your personal info.
M — Mass Mailings. If you got an email claiming you’ve been selected to win a prize, and there are a ton of other recipients listed in the “to” or “cc” fields, chances are it’s a scam
D — Details. You can often find out the true return email address of a sender by clicking on the “Details”, “Show Details”, or “Full Headers” link under the “To:” section, in the header of your email. If the sender is using a fake “from” address, you’ll see the real one in the details view, usually under “Reply to.”
! - DOES THE EMAIL SCREAM AT YOU IN ALL CAPS or have lots of !!!!!! at the end?
Beware of emails that try to get your attention by using all capital letters, especially in the subject line, or that try to scare you with lots of exclamation marks. The authors of scam emails tend to write over-the-top and very emotional content. Also, keep an eye out for dire warnings, such as "Urgent!" or "Danger!"
One final word of advice: Don’t respond to a spam email. By doing so, you confirm that your email account is active, and you'll likely be flooded with more spam and scam attempts.
If you are unsure of an email's authenticity, forward the email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you prefer, you can also provide additional information before sending the email.
How to report suspicious emails
Let us know anytime you see something that doesn’t look right. In general, we split "abuse" into two categories: spam (unsolicited commercial messaging) and phishing (attempts to defraud).
The best way to alert AOL to spam is to click the Spam button above the message. This sends the message directly to your Spam folder and tunes your Spam filter to better block these kinds of emails.
If a sender is trying to trick you into revealing confidential information, the best way to take action is to forward it to us here: email@example.com. If you think you’ve fallen for a scam and you gave out your credit card information, the first thing to do is notify your bank or credit union. If you provided your AOL password, change it now at account.aol.com.
1. Scare tactic subject line
A Subject line that is this alarming (and packed with exclamation points) is a red flag of suspicious email. This is a scare tactic that the sender hopes will make you panic and take action quickly. Just remember that any email that tries to scare you into doing something is suspicious and that no legitimate service will email you asking for your password.
2. Outdated logo
In some cases, scam emails will have a logo attached to the message in hopes of making the email appear more official. But take a close look at the logo. Is it the company's current logo? If not, that's another warning sign. However, don’t base your trust solely on a realistic logo. When in doubt, open a browser window, type in the company's web address, find their phone number and call them.
3. Check the real URL address
There's a way you can see where the hyperlinks in a suspicious email will actually take you to. Hover over these links (don’t click on them), and look in the lower left corner to see what site they connect to. Do they connect to a site that isn't the same as what the hyperlinks say? “www.aol.com” should point to www.aol.com.
Grammar and formatting errors
Language and punctuation errors = another warning sign. Messed-up typing, bad grammar, random html tags like <br/> and </p> are all red flags. Hopefully you delete a message like this before you even get this far, or mark it as spam to reduce the chance you’ll get more from the same sender.
Check the details
Clicking “show details” will show you who else this was sent to. A block of email addresses you don’t know, all starting with the same letter, is another warning sign.