Spotting Fake Emails: Tips to Keep You Safe

Do you know how to identify fake emails? It is an important skill to learn if you want to be digitally literate. This post will give you the basics of spotting fake emails so you can protect yourself.

Foreign Countries are Sending Fake Emails to Disrupt Our Election

The FBI held a press conference yesterday to announce that Iran and Russia have taken specific actions to use the Internet to disrupt the 2020 election.

Iran and Russia has obtained voter info, and Iran is using the info to send some pretty scary spoofed emails to voters. Iran is also reportedly posting a video saying your vote won’t count.

The first reporting of this was in the Wall Street Journal. From their article:

The emails were engineered by someone working at the behest of the Iranian government, according to a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity. The operation appeared to exploit a vulnerability in the Proud Boys’ online network.

U.S. government concludes Iran was behind threatening emails sent to Democrats“, Wall Street Journal.

The FBI doesn’t think this will be very widespread, but that may not be very helpful if you were one of the ones who got a scary email from the Proud Boys! Let’s talk about how you can build digital literacy skill to keep you safe and sane.

How can Digital Literacy Protect You?

When you’re digitally literate, you can identify where the information you’re looking at came from. Here are some steps you can take to practice digital literacy.

1. Did you have an immediate emotional response?

Did you read something online that raises your blood pressure or makes you feel like you just got punched in the stomach? The first thing to do is STOP! Take a breath, and recognize the message may have been crafted specifically to make you freak out!


2. Who posted or sent you this information?

Was it forwarded by a friend? If so, who is the original author or sender? Is it a video or social media post? Click on the profile of the person who originally posted the item and determine: How old is the account? What is their profile pic? Does this like the other real person accounts you follow?

If it is an email, who sent the email? Look at the From: address. Is it really from your bank? or is it from an email address that is not from Is it from

Try to figure out WHO is sending this information your way. If you can’t really tell, don’t trust the info!

3. Does the information even make sense?

Do the words in the post or email even make sense? You need to acknowledge that the content really freaked you out before you can do this next step.

Take a breath.

Re-read the content. Let’s look at the text of the email that was sent to the people who were targeted by the Iranian attack.

…we are in possession of all your information (email, address, telephone# everything). You are currently registered as a Democrat and we know this because we have gained access into the entire voting infrastructure. You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you. Change your party affiliation to Republican to let us know you received our message and will comply. We will know which candidate you voted for. I would take this seriously if I were you.”

“‘Vote for Trump or else’: Oklahoma student describes ‘horrifying’ fake Proud Boys email she received”,

First of all, check out the grammar and punctuation. Maybe a non-native English person wrote this?

Secondly, based on what you know about the Proud Boys, are they really going to take individual action like this?

And finally, can anyone know who you voted for? Not easily. This email was written to freak people out, not to get you to vote differently. It was written to make people afraid. It is a fake email

4. Is anyone else getting the same fake email?

Take some of the text in the post/email and google it. Is the news reporting on this? Are other people wondering about it? If you’re not the only one wondering about it, it is probably that this is a coordinated misinformation campaign.

In the case of the Proud Boys emails, the FBI stepped in to let everyone know that these were emails sent by a foreign country to disrupt our elections. Knowing that officials are aware of the campaign should help calm your feelings.

Real Talk

If we live our lives digitally, we are going to have to deal with information disrupters. In this case, you have foreign countries trying to social engineer our participation in our democracy.

Remember: these types of messages are designed to make us feel a certain way. Feelings are not facts. So take a breath, evaluate the facts of the information in front of you. Use digital literacy to protect your mental health!

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