How Are These Unwanted Messages Different?

spam email coming out of computer with surprised man feature

You may have heard the terms spam and phishing before, and many of you might have used the terms interchangeably, but there are actually some significant differences between the two.

Spam is unsolicited commercial email, while phishing is a type of scam where you are tricked into giving away your personal information.

So what are the major differences between spam and phishing, and how to protect yourself from these scams?

What Is Spam?

Spam is a type of email that is sent by unverified sources to large numbers of recipients. It includes malicious messages, commercial advertising, jokes, and chain letters. Spammers send out hundreds or thousands of emails in hopes that at least some people will be interested in the offers they present.

For example, you might receive emails from companies that offer special deals, discounts, and promotions. While these offers might be appealing, it’s important to remember that they could also be a scam.

Spammers use tactics like sending out fake messages from legitimate companies, using forged email addresses, and even hijacking legitimate email accounts to send out spam messages.

How to Spot a Spam Email

Spam emails are usually easy to identify if you pay attention to certain details. Here are a few tips that can help you spot a spam email:

  • The subject line is vague or unrelated to the content of the email
  • There is excessive use of hyperlinks and images
  • The sender’s name is not familiar, or it looks suspicious
  • The message includes some “too good to be true” offers or prizes
  • The email has spelling mistakes, typos, and grammatical errors

What Is Phishing?

Phishing is an online scam where criminals try to trick you into giving away personal and financial information like passwords, credit card numbers, or bank account details.

Cyberattackers use tactics such as fake emails, malicious links, and deceptive websites. These criminals usually impersonate someone from a trusted company, such as a bank or an online store. A phishing attack aims to get you to provide your information by pretending they are someone you can trust.

For example, you might receive an email that appears to be from your bank asking you to click on a link and enter your credentials in order to verify your account. This is a phishing attack, as the link leads you to a fake website created by criminals. No bank would ever ask you to enter your credentials through an email.

How to Spot a Phishing Attack

Phishing attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated to deal with and can be hard to spot. Here are a few tips that can help you identify a phishing attack:

  • The email sender is someone or an organization you do not recognize
  • There are typos and grammatical errors in the message
  • The email includes false claims or urgent requests
  • The email contains a malicious link or attachment
  • The message does not address you by name
  • The sender’s address is not from the company they claim to represent and is of a public email domain such as “@gmail[.]com,” “@yahoo[.]com,” or any other.
    Screenshot of a Yahoo phishing email

What Are the Major Differences Between Spam and Phishing?

Though often used interchangeably, a few aspects differentiate spam and phishing emails.


The biggest difference between spam and phishing is the intention behind them. Spam emails are usually sent out to a large number of people in hopes that someone will be interested in the offer or message they present.

On the other hand, phishing attempts are targeted at a specific person or group of people with malicious intent. They look to deceive their target into giving up confidential information or clicking on malicious links.


Another key difference between the two is the content of the email itself. Spam emails usually contain long marketing messages, promotional offers, advertisements, and other irrelevant messages meant to solicit a response from the recipient.

Phishing emails typically contain short messages and are often written in an urgent tone to try and pressure the recipient into taking action immediately. They also often contain malicious links or attachments that can infect a computer once clicked on.

Spam emails may contain links or attachments, but they are not malicious. Phishing emails typically contain malicious links or attachments that can infect your computer with malware when clicked on or opened.

Additionally, phishing emails may contain deceptive links that redirect to a spoofed website meant to look like a legitimate website. It is important to be wary of both types of links and attachments when you receive an email from an unknown sender.


Spam and phishing emails can appear very similar in the way they are presented. Both typically have a generic subject line, professional-looking logos, and an urgent message. It can be difficult to differentiate between the two without looking closer at the content of the email itself.

The Sender

Spam emails are sent by unknown marketers who are not authorized to send the message, whereas phishing emails are often disguised as legitimate companies and organizations with forged email addresses and headers.


The impacts of each type of email vary as well. Spam emails are generally harmless, though they can be annoying. On the other hand, phishing emails can be very dangerous and result in identity theft, stolen funds, or other serious security breaches.

How to Protect Yourself From Spam and Phishing Mails

Spam and phishing can be pesky and dangerous. It is important to protect yourself from them, so here are a few tips:

  1. When you receive an email from an unknown sender, do not open any attachments or click on any links.
  2. Always read through emails carefully before responding or taking any action suggested in them. It might be a scam if you find something too good to be true.
  3. Be wary of emails that ask for personal or financial information, no matter how legitimate they may appear.
  4. If you receive an email that you think might be phishing, delete it immediately and do not reply to it. Report it to your IT department or service provider.
  5. Use anti-spam and anti-phishing software on your computer to prevent malicious emails from getting through.
  6. You can also install email spam filters on your computer or phone to help block unwanted messages.
  7. Phishers can also lure you through your social media accounts. Always be cautious when interacting with suspicious accounts.

Phishing Is Not Another Word for Spam

As we have seen, there are some major differences between spam and phishing. Spam is generally harmless and annoying, whereas phishing can be harmful and destructive.

Knowing the differences between spam and phishing can help you identify them quickly, so you can take action to protect yourself from potential harm. It is important to always remain vigilant and follow best practices when dealing with email, even messages from seemingly legitimate sources.

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