Generic greetings, spelling errors, and threats are the answer to ‘What is a common indicator of a phishing attempt?’ Continue reading to learn more!

Phishing attempts are one of the most common ways that cybercriminals try to steal personal information or install malware.

Luckily, there are some common indicators that can help you recognize a phishing attempt before becoming a victim. In this post, we’ll explore the top signs to watch out for when identifying phishing attempts.

Suspicious sender email address

An email from an unknown sender

One of the easiest ways to identify a phishing email is to look carefully at the sender’s email address. Phishers often spoof legitimate addresses or use slightly altered spellings hoping you won’t notice. For example, an email might come from “” instead of the real “”. Always check for inconsistencies. Legitimate companies will always send emails from addresses matching their official domain names.

Generic greetings

An email with a generic greeting

Most companies will address you directly by name in emails. Phishing emails almost always have impersonal generic greetings like “Dear customer” or “Hello valued user”. This is a dead giveaway that the sender doesn’t actually know who you are.

Phishing emails are sent in mass, so they rarely contain any details specific to you. Genuine emails will include customized information like your name, account numbers, purchase history, etc. Impersonal content is a giveaway.

Suspicious links

An email with a suspicious link

Never click directly on links in unsolicited emails. Hover over them first to check if the URLs match the link text. Phishers often hide malicious URLs underneath seemingly innocent text. Also, watch for misspellings in domains. Only click on links if you’re confident they lead to legitimate websites.

Requests for personal information

requests for personal information

Phishing scams are all about stealing personal information. Any unexpected email requesting sensitive info like passwords, Social Security numbers, or bank details should raise red flags. Legitimate companies won’t ask for this over email. Delete any messages asking for private information immediately.

Attachments from unknown senders

email attachments

It’s best to avoid downloading attachments in unsolicited emails altogether. Attachments are a common delivery method for malware. Never download or enable macros for attachments you weren’t expecting, regardless of the sender. Attachments can hide viruses, so don’t open them from anyone you don’t know.

Spelling and grammatical errors

Spelling or Grammar mistakes are a sign of phishing

If an email is littered with grammatical or spelling errors or mistakes, it’s almost certainly a phishing scam. Legitimate emails from corporations will be professional and error-free.

Sloppy mistakes indicate a scammer who likely doesn’t speak your language natively.

Requests for sensitive actions

identify phishing attacks by being on the look out for requests that ask to verify sensitive info

A legitimate company will never request sensitive actions in an unsolicited email, like confirming personal details or billing information. Be suspicious of out-of-the-blue emails asking you to input or verify sensitive info. Never provide personal or financial information over email without verifying the request through other methods first.

Too good to be true offers

the scammer hopes you will fall for an offer that is too good to be true

Massive discounts, prize winnings, free vacations, and other “too good to be true” offers are extremely common phishing tactics. Be very wary of unsolicited, fraudulent emails promising you something for nothing.

If an email says you’ve won money in a contest you don’t remember entering, or that you’ll get cash for helping a stranger transfer funds, it’s a scam. Real sweepstakes don’t notify winners by email.

If an offer seems unrealistic, it’s undoubtedly a scam attempting to manipulate you.

Requests you to forward or share

A legitimate organization wont ask you to forward emails or share posts

Real companies won’t ask you to forward emails or share posts. Phishers want you to spread malicious content as far as possible, so be wary of any emails that request you pass it along. Never forward or share emails from unverified senders that you don’t personally know.

Asks for fees upfront

Unusual requests can ask for credit card details or payment up front

Scammers often promise big prizes or payouts if you pay a “small” fee first. Legitimate contests and lotteries don’t require you to pay participation fees upfront. Steer clear of any that do. Never pay upfront fees for a chance to receive future winnings or benefits.

Has poor design quality

fake emails typically have poor design

Most phishing sites have a cheap, unfinished look and feel compared to legitimate company websites. Look for uneven fonts, distorted logos, and mismatched colors as signs of a possible phishing attempt or site.

Uses threats and fear

malicious actors use threats to create a sense of urgency

Phishers want to scare you into acting fast without thinking. Watch for threatening language about account suspensions or legal actions. Also, be wary of emails that try to create a false sense of urgency with phrases like “Act now!” or “Limited time offer”.

Phishing emails often threaten dire consequences like jail or lawsuits if you don’t act quickly. Any email message intended to scare you into immediate action signals a scam. Stop and think before responding.

Don’t let threats cloud your judgment – take time to verify any demands before providing sensitive information.

Security Awareness Training and Phishing Simulations

One of the best defenses against phishing is comprehensive security awareness training for employees. Training programs educate employees on how to recognize and report phishing attempts. Key topics include:

  • Identifying deceptive emails and websites

  • Safely handling unsolicited messages

  • Policies for reporting suspicious emails

  • Dangers of clicking unknown links/attachments

  • How phishing attacks work

Training should be continuous with refreshers to cover new phishing tactics. Interactive modules with quizzes reinforce concepts.

Phishing simulations are especially impactful. These send fake phishing emails to test employee reactions. Those who fall for the simulated phish then receive additional targeted training.

Done right, awareness training significantly improves employees’ ability to spot and defend against real phishing campaigns. Ongoing participation in training and simulations makes phishing less effective over time. Employees become an invaluable last line of defense against attackers.

Investing in comprehensive security awareness training reduces an organization’s vulnerability to phishing. Educating employees on recognizing common phishing indicators is critical for keeping systems and data safe.


By learning the common traits of phishing messages you can keep yourself safe and avoid phishing attacks. Always be cautious of unsolicited messages, look for the signs covered here, and trust your instincts. Stay vigilant!

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The following are some variations of frequently asked questions around the topic of “What is a common indicator of a phishing attempt”. We hope you found the answer you were looking for and also take some time to dive deeper into ways to prevent phishing and strengthen your cyber awareness education!

Generic greetings, spelling errors, and threats are common indicators of a phishing attack.

The Navy lists strange links, suspicious attachments, odd greetings, spelling mistakes, and threats as common phishing indicators.

7 phishing red flags are strange links/attachments, grammar and spelling errors, unfamiliar senders, urgent tones, generic greetings, spoofing, and requests for sensitive data.

The Army lists threats, curious subject lines, and request for details as phishing indicators.

An email from a known, trusted sender is not a common phishing indicator.

Strange links and urgency as two ways to identify a phishing email attempt.

Phishing email red flags include bad grammar/spelling, threats, suspicious links, spoofed senders, malicious links and requests for sensitive information.

Phishing attempts often look like fake invoices or notices from companies requesting personal information or account login credentials.

4 things to look for are poor grammar/spelling, generic greetings, urgent tones, and requests for sensitive information.

Just one common phishing indicator like bad grammar or a suspicious link is needed to identify a potential phishing email.

5 things are generic greetings, grammar/spelling errors, urgent tones, strange links, and requests for personal details.

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