Suppose you get an email from the ASPCA asking for a donation, or perhaps a newsletter from them that has links to click to learn more - or even to unsubscribe from future mailings. You love animals, you want to help, but is the email for real?
First, remember that reputable organizations will not automatically subscribe you to newsletter lists so unless you subscribed to something always assume that any and all unsolicited email is spam or faked. This is especially true of nonprofit fund raisers who, for the most part, will not send you any unsolicited email.
How Hyperlinks are Faked in Emails
The imaginary email in question might say "Help save animals today ... click here." Or the email might even show an actual hyperlink url like this: http://aspca.org. But what you see is not always where you will end up if you click on these links.
How to Check Emails for Fake Hyperlinks Using Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Expresses Email
If you use Microsoft Outlook to view your mail it is easy to check to see if an email has legitimate hyperlinks. In the email:
- Right Click on Your Mouse (do NOT left click or this may open the link)
- Select "View Source"
If the email was sent in HTML format the HTML code pop up in a new window. If nothing pops up or you do not see the "View Source" option, the email message is in another format. To check the hyperlinks in plain text email messages, follow the instructions below for plain text messages and AOL and other email clients.
Once you see the HTML code, don't worry, you do not have to know how to read HTML to find links.
- Click "Edit"
- Click "Find"
- Type in "http"
- Click "Find Next"
You will then be taken directly to the code that has an embedded hyperlink. Look at each link in the entire email. Links will look just like any web URL you normally type in (beginning with http://). You can often tell by looking at the real URL a link if it is an unsafe link.
Be sure to look at each hyperlink by selecting "Find Next" until there are no more links to review.
How to Check Emails for Fake Hyperlinks in Plain Text Messages and Using AOL or Other Email Clients
Generally, if an email contains no attachments it is safe to open as long as you do not click on anything, download images, or reply to it. Open the email but do not attempt to open the links or cut and paste a link from an email (you might accidentally open the link instead).
- Highlight the entire email message (do not just highlight the hyperlink);
- Copy and paste the email into a blank, unsaved Word document;
- Move the curse to the link in question and hover the mouse over the link - do not click!
A small pop-up will show you where the hyperlink will really lead to - not where the text claims that it will lead you.
Remember, what you see is not always what you get -- it is incredibly easy for even the most beginning spammer to fake hyperlinks in emails. It is important to suspicious emails safely check hyperlinks using the tips and methods above without having to click on them first; if you are not sure -- don't click, just delete!