BlogScams11TH JUL 2023
AuthorSamir Yawar
5 min read

Phishing vs Spam: How to Spot a Malicious Link or Junk Email

a feature image about phishing vs spam
BlogScams11TH JUL 2023
5 min read

Phishing vs Spam: How to Spot a Malicious Link or Junk Email

AuthorSamir Yawar
a feature image about phishing vs spam

Phishing vs. spam. To the layman, they may sound like the same thing. But as you will find out by the end of this post, they are very different in what they do.

Phishing and spam are two common types of online nuisances that often target unsuspecting individuals through email or other digital mediums.

Spam primarily involves sending unsolicited and often irrelevant mass messages to a wide audience, intending to promote products, services, or websites.

On the other hand, phishing is a more sinister tactic, involving fraudulent attempts to deceive users into revealing sensitive information, such as passwords or financial details, by posing as a legitimate entity.

Imagine this: You are Peter. And Peter checks his phone first thing every morning. Now all you really want to do is get quick updates on life; How is your sister’s dog doing? When is Harriet (your best friend)’s getting married? Are people still trying to build another Titanic?

But instead of all that, you are hit with a deluge of spam and phishing emails. ‘What did I ever do to deserve this?’ you ask, defeated.

Phishing vs Spam: What is the difference?

Phishing Attacks

Phishing is the real troublemaker. It is a social engineering scam that is designed to defraud you. Cybercriminals can accomplish this by sending an email that appears ‘harmless and genuine’ at first glance.

A phishing email contains a malicious link that can steal your personal, financial or professional information. They cause real damage by stealing:

  • Passwords

  • Login credentials

  • Citizenship information

  • Banking details

Phishing relies on more than emails as a delivery mechanism. Since the idea is to trick the target, scammers also rely on:

  • Fake websites

  • Spoofed email

  • Social engineering

Psychology also plays a massive role in designing phishing campaigns. Over the years, online scammers have tried to trap unsuspecting victims with:

  • Fake invoice scam

  • Email account upgrade scam

  • advance fee scam

  • PayPal scam

  • Unusual sign-in activity scam

Here are some of the most common types of scams you’re likely to encounter:

An infographic listing the types of phishing scams
Phishing attacks come in all forms

Spam Messages

Spam is a tactic used by sellers to hawk goods and services to everyone without their consent. It is usually done by sending unwanted emails to a lot of people.

Spam emails are as old as the internet. Spammers usually get ahold of email addresses for many users by scrapping websites or paying third parties. And whether you want it or not, spam messages land on your email address.

Common types of spam emails include:

  • Donation requests

  • Newsletters

  • Prayer chain forwards

  • Promotional offers

  • Coupons

  • Adult content

  • Jokes that overstayed their welcome by a decade or two

Spam, however, is not necessarily malicious. These are commercial messages pushing you to buy a particular product. Sometimes they include website links.

They are at best, harmless and at worst, annoying.

Legislations like the CAN-SPAM Act have made including opt-out links for spam emails mandatory. Commercial entities are also expected by law to enforce these opt-outs.

Components of a Phishing Scam

A lot of work goes into ensuring that you can't distinguish a phishing message from a real one.

How to Identify Phishing Scams

They say prevention is better than cure. For phishing, a few simple steps can thwart the designs of some of the most dastardly scam artists out there:

  • Check the sender’s email address. Usually, the website or domain is not credible.

  • There are grammatical errors in the content.

  • The URLs in the phishing message are too complicated or misspelled.

  • You get a call to action, asking you to download an attachment or click a link before you can “view important information” or “verify your account.”

  • The email says you must do X or Y to prevent your account from being suspended. It sounds a little too urgent.

How do Spammers Work?

Believe it or not, quite a lot goes into making that boring and generic spam email. Here is a look at the process of how a spam email comes into being and where it ends up:

How to Identify Spam Emails

  • They are usually from a brand or sender you have never subscribed to.

  • They contain an unfamiliar email address.

  • They are overly promotional.

Apart from this, you can observe these simple rules:


With this information, Peter knows how to minimize the likelihood of ever encountering spam or phishing content. 

Understanding the distinctions between phishing and spam is vital for maintaining online security. While both pose risks, phishing involves targeted deception, while spam focuses on mass distribution.

We hope this post helps you stay alert. Look out for any warning signs. Take steps to protect your data from cyber threats that are constantly changing.


Need to know how to spot a phishing scam?

A checklist of things to identify phishing scam attempts

Here are some tell-tale signs that help you spot spam messages:

Some simple rules to know to check if you received a spam email or not.

Samir Yawar
Samir Yawar / Content Lead
Samir wants a world where people can instinctively whack online scams and feel accomplished without the need for psychic powers. As an ISC2 member, he is doing his bit to turn cybersecurity awareness training into a fun concept with simple, approachable and accessible content. Reach out to him at X @yawarsamir
FAQsFrequently Asked Questions
Phishing and spam are both types of online threats, but they differ in their intent and delivery. Phishing involves targeted attempts to deceive individuals into revealing sensitive information. Spam refers to unsolicited mass emails or messages sent for promotional purposes.
Phishing emails often have common red flags such as misspelled URLs, generic greetings, urgent requests, or suspicious attachments. Be cautious of unexpected emails, verify the sender's identity, and avoid clicking on unfamiliar links or sharing personal information.
Phishing attacks pose a higher level of risk compared to spam. Phishing attempts are personalized and can lead to identity theft, financial loss, or compromised accounts. While spam can be annoying and potentially contain malware, it generally carries a lower risk level.
To protect yourself, it is essential to stay vigilant. Use spam filters, keep your software up to date, and be cautious while sharing personal information online. Educate yourself about the latest phishing techniques, report phishing attempts, and regularly review your email security settings.
Reputable organizations such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and cybersecurity agencies provide helpful guidelines, articles, and tools on their websites.