Email: What is Phishing?

What is Phishing?

Phishing is when scam artists send official-looking emails, attempting to fool you into disclosing your personal information — such as user names, passwords, banking records or account numbers, or social security numbers — by replying to the email or entering it on a phone website. Phishers can pretend to be from a legitimate bank, organization, government agency, or store, or claim to be the host of a lottery or contest. Some even imitate the UNIT Service Desk. 

How can I report suspicious emails? 

All Villanova University students, faculty, and staff members who receive suspicious e-mail should report it immediately to by using the Report Phish Button in their email. Even if you are not sure, it is better to have the message checked first. In addition, just because you may think it is obviously bad, you should still send it along for analysis. What might be obvious to you may not be to another individual. Remember, if you see something suspicious, report it! 

How can I identify malicious emails?

Identify the Sender. Do you know this person? Were you expecting e-mail from this person or does it fit in with your job role? If not, it is probably suspicious. 

Reply-to. If the Reply-to address is different from the sending address, this should raise your suspicion for the whole message. 

Links and Attachments. If you were not expecting an attachment or a link, and you do not know the sender, do not open it! If you are not sure, check with the sender by phone (don’t use a phone number in the e-mail), otherwise report it. 

Grammar and Tone. Many of the malicious e-mails sent have poor grammar, punctuation, and spelling. In addition, you should know how your co-workers communicate. Does this message sound like them? If not, it is probably malicious. 

Emotions. Be wary of any e-mails trying to cause certain emotions. The most commonly used malicious emotions are: 

Greed. Messages offering or promising you money by clicking a link or giving away information are usually malicious. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

Urgency. Unusually short deadlines create a false sense of urgency to act. Attackers employ this technique in attempts to confuse the recipient. 

Curiosity. Attackers take advantage of our curiosity by promising something exciting or prohibited content. 

Fear. Threatening recipients with negative consequences is a common tactic to generate responses — things such as threatening to shut off accounts or legal action. 

Tips to avoid a phishing scam

  • Be on the lookout for suspicious emails or text messages. Legitimate, responsible companies will never solicit personal information over email. Never reveal personal or financial information in response to an email request, no matter who appears to have sent it. 
  • Don’t click on links or attachments in suspicious emails or text messages. Instead, visit the mentioned website directly by using a search engine to locate the real site. If the web address listed by the search engine and the address in the email do not match, the email is most likely a phishing attempt or spam, and you should delete it. 
  • Set up a spam filter. A spam filter can greatly reduce the number of phishing emails you receive. University IT provides free spam management for University email. 
  • If you are still tempted to click, pick up the phone instead. If the message looks real and you are really tempted to respond, instead look up the phone number of the company and call them. Do not use any phone number in the email because it could be fake. Ask if the message was actually sent by the company and if you can take care of any issues over the phone instead. 
  • Change your passwords regularly. Whether or not you’ve fallen victim to a suspicious email, it is best to practice safe security by changing your password on a regular basis. Unlike keys or an ATM card, your password does not have to be physically taken to be copied, and it’s unlikely you’ll know when your password has been stolen.  

How can i make sure my message looks legitimate? 

Several actions will help make your messages look legitimate. 

  1. Use links to sites with “https://” This directs your recipients to websites that can be verified by a trusted third party. 

  1. Offer alternatives to clicking the link. Give directions such as “Go to the Intranet, click on …” 

  1. Have direct contact information. Give your recipients a point of contact to verify the authenticity of the message. 

  1. Avoid attachments. Where possible avoid sending attachments. Try to use departmental file shares or other methods of file transfer. 


Visit Spam Email vs. Phishing Attacks to learn more about the difference in reporting. 


For more information visit

Questions or concerns? Contact the UNIT Help Desk at


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Article ID: 140843
Mon 8/1/22 9:19 AM
Thu 3/7/24 6:18 AM