Every now and then, I will get a message forwarded to asking whether the message is legitimate. Usually the message turns out to be spam. Often it’s obvious to me that it’s spam, but since it wasn’t obvious to someone else, I am happy to help.

In this post I will share my secret on how I can tell whether a message is spam or not within 5 seconds. Are you ready? Here it is:

I read the message and think critically about its contents.

This is what allows me to figure out whether a message is spam or not in under 5 seconds. Here are some of the things I take into consideration.

Almost All Spam Has Spelling and Grammar Errors

This is a biggie. Seriously. Almost every single piece of spam that has made it through my spam filter has contained at least one serious spelling or grammatical error. If your bank or Apple or the CRA / IRS is going to send you something via email (which they won’t), the likelihood the message will be riddled with spelling or grammatical errors is virtually nil. If you see one, there’s a very high probability (i.e. 99%+) that it’s spam.

It’s Coming From Places That Don’t Use Email

Going back to the previous point, credit card companies, banks, the Canada Revenue Agency or Internal Revenue Service, Apple, Microsoft, and other major institutions and corporations are not going to be requesting personal information be sent to them over email or via a website. Unless you’re involved in a direct communication with them that you initiated, there’s very little chance that this is going to be a legitimate message.

You Don’t Have the Service

I used to bank with RBC. That relationship ended over a decade ago. When I receive an email purporting to be from RBC, I ignore it because it’s spam. You can do the same.

Anonymous Hackers Have My Password!!

Sometimes it’s possible that hackers have gained access to an old password I used to use due to a security breach at some online service. I change passwords pretty regularly so when I see messages like this I can safely ignore them.

But WHAT IF they have a password I really do use? What if they really caught me visiting porn websites and recorded videos of me on my computer’s webcam, and then got all of my contacts from Facebook, Messenger, and my email accounts?

Please, think critically. Even if someone has an old password of yours, were you watching porn on your work computer? Does your computer even have a webcam? Don’t let the fact that someone has an old password of yours gaslight you into thinking you’ve done something you haven’t. Delete it and move along.

As I often say to people, if you received a message via snail mail that was full of grammatical and spelling errors, you’d toss it without a second thought. Just because something arrives on a screen doesn’t give it any more legitimacy. They’re safe to delete.

How Are Your Emails Being Treated?

What if your own emails have spelling and grammatical errors? Perhaps your recipients are treating them like spam. It’s another reason why it’s important for businesses to pay attention to spelling and grammar in their online communications.

I hope you find this information useful. Have you had a crazy spam experience? Tell us about it in the comments section below! Thanks for reading 🙂