Information Technology

Spam or Phishing: What is the difference?

Spam or Phishing: What is the difference?

Identifying the difference between spam and phishing emails can help you protect yourself from online threats.

While there are many ways to identify what is spam and what is a phishing email, here are some key distinctions:


  • Spam: Spam emails are typically sent to a large number of recipients with the intention of promoting a product, service or idea.  They are often annoying and may not necessarily be malicious, but they can clog up your inbox. 
  • Phishing: Phishing emails are more malicious in nature.  They are designed to trick you into revealing sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, or other personal information.  The sender pretends to be a legitimate entry to gain your trust. 

Sender's Address:

  • Spam:  Spam emails often have generic or suspicious-looking sender addresses.  They may come from a random assortment of characters or use free email services. 
  • Phishing: Phishing emails can sometimes have deceptive sender addresses that look very similar to legitimate ones. For example, "" might be replaced with "" or something similar.


  • Spam: Spam emails may contain promotional content, advertisements, or offers for products or services.  They might also contain links to websites selling something.
  • Phishing: Phishing emails are designed to deceive you.  They often contain urgent requests for personal information, alarming messages about your account being compromised, or offers that seem too good to be true.  They typically contain links or attachments that lead to fake websites or malware. 

Urgency and Threats:

  • Spam: Spam emails do not usually contain urgent or threatening language. They are more focused on marketing.
  • Phishing: Phishing emails often use urgent language to create a sense of panic or fear.  They may warn of consequences if you don't take immediate action. 

Request for Information: 

  • Spam: Spam emails do not typically request personal information. 
  • Phishing: Phishing emails will often ask for sensitive information like passwords, Social Security numbers, credit card information, or other personal data.

Remember that these are general guidelines and not foolproof indicators.  Cybercriminals are constantly evolving their tactics, so it's important to stay vigilant.  Always be cautious about clicking on links or providing information in emails, especially if you didn't expect to receive them.  If in doubt, contact the supposed sender through different channels to verify the email's legitimacy.  You may also report it to Lindenwood IT by taking the following steps in Outlook:

  • Select the suspicious email.
  • Click on the 'Report Phishing' icon located at the top of the Outlook interface.