There are numerous email scams that land in your inbox every day, from malware-ridden attachments supposedly from a friend to IRS impersonators to blackmailers threatening to expose you for watching porn. And what makes many of these scams harder to recognize is that they rely on a “spoofed” email address to make it appear that they are coming from someone you trust (or even your own email address), rather than a scammer 6,000 miles away. So learning how to tell if an email has been spoofed is critical to protecting yourself.
Part of the reason why spoofed emails are so prevalent is that it is incredibly easy to spoof an address. Any mail server can be set up to send from a given domain (e.g. irs.gov), and there are even websites that will let you send one-off emails using any email address for free. But both of these methods leave telltale tracks that give it away as spoofed.
To find these tracks, you need to look at the email header. The header contains critical components of every email – From, To, Date and Subject – as well as detailed information about where the email came from and how it was routed to you. Importantly, it also contains the results of the verification process your email provider used to determine if the sending server has permission to send using that domain (i.e., Is this server authorized to send emails from irs.gov?).
Showing your email headers varies depending on which email service you’re using. For Gmail, open the email and click on the three vertical dots next to the reply arrow and select “Show Original”. For other email programs, you can use this list.
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