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How To Spot a Phishing Email

Earlier today I received an email from a contact who works in the private equity field.  I met Rob R. at the AM&AA event in Dallas earlier this summer, and we had a great discussion on the importance of technology due diligence during the acquisition process.  He asked that I add him to our mailing list, and suggested he’d keep Ashton in mind for their next deal.

Since the event, I’ve sent Rob a couple of follow up emails, and I was excited to see something from him in my inbox this morning.  The subject line mentioned something having been sent via encrypted TLS (which actually meant nothing to me), and upon opening the email (shown below), I saw a secure message for which I needed to click a link “by Sept 8”.  Rob’s name and email were all over the email, and hovering over both links also showed me his first initial/lastname/company name as part of the URL.

Red Flags Abound

Being the sales guy, I thought that Rob had an opportunity for us.  But a few things jumped out at me.

  • The sense of urgency in “click by today’s date” to get the info
  • The fact that neither of his phone number area codes matched the firm’s office area code
  • The email address in his signature line, while using the proper format for his firm, actually had one of his colleague’s names
  • The disclaimer that the email had been scanned by Mimecast (a legit spam filter, but not one that we use)

By the time I got to the bottom, I was pretty confident that this was a phishing email, so I did the safe thing and called Rob to verify (I figured that, at worst, it was a way for me to remind him of who I am and what Ashton offers in terms of due diligence). He answered, and I gave the quick “who I am and how I know him” spiel, and sure enough, he said he’d been hit with a phishing attack.  We both chuckled, and I mentioned “Well, being the sales guy, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to give you a call and say hey.”  His response?  “Yep, I’m the sales guy too, and that’s why I clicked on this link yesterday. Now look where it’s gotten me. “I” have sent out 200+ emails, and my phone is ringing off the hook.

Think Before You Click

This is a guy who spent time in U.S. Army intel, and even he was fooled.  It’s just goes to show that while the hackers are getting better (there were plenty of red flags on this email), you should always take your time and think before you click.  Even if you’re in sales and think this one is the next big opportunity!

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