Stupid Tip of the Day: How to Tell If an E-Mail Message is “Spam”

Note: Stupid Tip of the Day is a not-so-new regular feature of The Gate which will not be featured regularly — if at all — after today…or maybe not. Does anyone really read these disclaimers, anyway?!?

ou have received what appears to be a legitimate e-mail message from a reputable company — such as an airline, for example — but you have no idea as to whether or not it is considered “spam”; and you do not want to click open the e-mail message in case it is loaded with a virus or “malware” of some type.

The example shown above is a screen shot from an actual e-mail message which I received earlier. As a person experienced with graphic design, I know that the FedEx logo is in a typeface similar to Futura Extra Bold; yet the logotype shown above clearly uses a slightly condensed version of Verdana, which is a typeface designed by Matthew Carter for Microsoft Corporation that is usually included with your computer and used extensively throughout the Internet — including as the main typeface for content currently posted on FlyerTalk.

I have isolated the imitation logotype to compare it to the legitimate version, which has a registered trademark symbol — or ® — included…

One obvious giveaway of an e-mail message which is nothing more than “spam” designed to compel you to open it — to a graphic designer, anyway — is the authenticity of the logotype. Notice that the version on the left uses a form of Verdana; while the authentic version on the right uses a form of Futura Extra Bold. The logo on the right is a trademark of FedEx, once known as Federal Express.

One obvious giveaway of an e-mail message which is nothing more than “spam” designed to compel you to open it — to a graphic designer, anyway — is the authenticity of the logotype. Notice that the version on the left uses a form of Verdana; while the authentic version on the right uses a form of Futura Extra Bold. The logo on the right is a trademark of FedEx, once known as Federal Express.

…but what if you are not a graphic designer — or know little about typefaces and logos?

No need to be concerned, as there is an easy method to discern whether or not the e-mail message is authentic: simply place your cursor over the link where you are instructed to click and leave it there for a brief moment. A “pop-up” alert should show you the actual URL of the link in question — and notice that it does not include “www.fedex.com” in it, as shown in the example at the top of this article.

So that the rogue Internet web site gets no attention, I purposely changed the uniform resource locator — or URL — to something I fabricated.

If for some reason none of the above tips are helpful to you, use a telephone to call the company in question — usually via a toll-free number — and ask whether or not the e-mail message was legitimate. Chances are that the answer is “no”…

…and as I posted in this comprehensive article earlier this month pertaining to how to reduce the risk of credit card fraud and what you can do, the bank which issued one of my credit cards sent an e-mail message on Monday, December 1, 2014 claiming to have denied a charge from a company from which I have never heard. I was asked to click either a green Yes button to verify the legitimacy of that questionable charge; or a red No button to indeed verify that the charge was not legitimate.

I did what you are supposed to do: call the bank which issued the credit card and speak to a live person and never click on the link provided in the e-mail message nor respond to the e-mail message. I have received a lot of e-mail messages lately from what appear to be legitimate companies asking me to click on a link to either send them information or verify something; and almost always, I hover my cursor over the link for a second, which then ultimately reveals an unknown URL that has nothing to do with the legitimate company. This is the usual confirmation that the e-mail message is a “phishing” scam where a questionable entity is attempting to gather vital information from me — most likely for the sender to send a virus to my computer or be able to steal my identity.

Upon calling the telephone number on the rear of my credit card — which I did that evening — the representative confirmed that the e-mail message was not only indeed legitimate; but there was another questionable charge posted to the account that was not initiated by me.

I wrote this article in the event that you receive what appears to be a legitimate e-mail message from a reputable travel company — whether it is an airline, lodging company, cruise line, parking facility, attraction or rental car company — attempting to prompt you to click on what could actually be a phony link. To reiterate: never click on the link provided in the e-mail message nor respond to the e-mail message, as you could put your computer and your files at risk.

Do you have any additional helpful information to add or experience to impart? If so, please share it in the Comments section below. Thank you.

6 thoughts on “Stupid Tip of the Day: How to Tell If an E-Mail Message is “Spam””

  1. Pandora says:

    WRT the fedex logo, the tipoff for me was that in the real fedex logo between the E and the X you can see a right pointing arrow.

  2. Firm Doc says:

    Chase seems to contact me every few months about a suspicious charge (I have lots of Chase cards). I consider myself savvy but didn’t know that I should ALWAYS call rather than click “Yes” “No”. All the suspicious charges turned out to be suspicious & Chase issues new cards. But in the future I’ll always respond to an email with a phone call. As to FedEx, I’m hip to bogus looking graphics.

  3. Meg says:

    In addition to “hovering” over a link inside an email, you can also, without even opening the email message, hover over the “from” email address to see if it matches who it purports to be.

    It’s not hard for phishers and spammers to clip and paste an actual company’s logo into a scam email, so just recognizing a legitimate logo doesn’t mean the email is valid.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      That is correct, Meg — which is why I am amazed that the “spammers” do not take the extra couple of seconds to ensure that the e-mail message looks more authentic.

      Thank you for the additional tip!

  4. Kathy W. says:

    Great tips, Brian. Although sometimes scam/spam emailers copy the actual logos for a more authentic look.

    But there are other tipoffs quite often, such as atrocious grammar and spelling. Or something doesn’t make sense. In the above message, how would you pick up a package by simply going “to the nearest office?” Clearly, a package has to be at a specific office at a specific address, not just the “nearest” one. I guess the scammers were too lazy to ascertain which office would be nearest to the intended victim, since they are probably sending the email to many (thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions) of prospective victims, of whom probably only a tiny percentage will bite. So it isn’t worth the effort to have software to personalize the message with the (supposed) address of the “nearest office.” Also, why would one need a “shipment label” to pick something up? Normally it would be called something else, or the needed info could be in the body of the email, rather than requiring the recipient to click on something.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      For some reason, why do I suddenly have an urge to post a trip report of Burano, Kathy W.? Long time no see!

      Those are some great points you made. Maybe there were a thousand of those packages and one was sent to each location in anticipation of the pickup?

      Seriously: I believe that the perpetrators of those scams assume that their recipients do not take the time or care to execute the thought process which you have demonstrated — and probably rightfully so in a number of cases, unfortunately.

      Thank you, Kathy W.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *