Question – I’m getting a lot of spam email. How can I tell which ones are real?

Our email inboxes fill up quickly these days, often with unwanted junk mail, solicitations, ads and special offers. Although most email providers are working diligently to filter out this spam, some get through and it’s not always easy to identify a legitimate inquiry. Attorneys are especially prone to receiving this type of email.

Many of these spam emails are intended to get you to give them your email address (by replying) so they can spam you with other solicitations or for more elaborate schemes. For example, one scheme involves sending you a fake check for an agreed upon amount. The check arrives $1,000 too much and they request you wire or send a check for the overpayment.

Here are some strong signals, usually in combination, that can help you identify and filter out spam quickly:

1. Country of origin.
Emails from another country can be a sign of spam. Look at the address extension to see if it ends in .org, .com, .edu or .net, the four standard American extensions. If it ends in .co.uk (United Kingdom) or another country it may be spam.

2. Lack of specifics.
Using general terms like “Dear Counsel” in the greeting and “your jurisdiction” etc. show that they don’t know you and are fishing for more specifics.

3. Issue definition.
Sometimes the description of their issue is vague, for example, “I need a business/contract litigation lawyer to handle our matter.” Sometimes it’s too specific like “I’ve reached a settlement of $429,500 and require the help of counsel in your jurisdiction to collect.”

4. No further contact information, address, town, state, or phone number.

The bottom line is, for the most part you want someone who identifies himself or herself, lives in your area and has a legal issue you know you can help him or her with. Even the savviest folks fall for these schemes and that’s why spammers continue to send them. Be aware, look for these signals, and you’ll have an easier time telling fact from fiction.