Spam vs. Phishing: Understand the Difference

Updated on September 6, 2023
Spam vs. Phishing: Understand the Difference

Have you ever opened your inbox to find a message claiming you’ve won a million dollars in some lottery you never entered? Or maybe an urgent alert that your account has been hacked and needs to be verified immediately? If so, chances are you’ve been the target of spam or phishing emails. While the two terms are often used interchangeably, there are some key differences between spam and phishing you should understand. Knowing how to spot the difference between phishing and spam can help you avoid becoming the victim of fraud or identity theft. Read on to find out exactly what these shady practices are and how you can protect yourself.

Defining Spam:

Spam is an unsolicited bulk email sent for commercial purposes. Usually, it’s trying to sell you something shady like knock-off handbags or pharmaceuticals.

How to Spot Spam?

Spam emails often have a few telltale signs:

  • They have an urgent or exciting subject line, like “You’ve won a prize!” or “Act now, limited time offer!”
  • The sender’s name and email address don’t match. “Totally Legit Company” is a red flag.
  • There are lots of exclamation points, spelling or grammar mistakes.
  • There’s a link or download attachment from someone you don’t know.
  • They want personal information like your password, credit card number or social security number. Legit companies don’t ask for sensitive data in an email.

Defining Phishing:

Phishing is when criminals impersonate a trusted source like your bank or credit card company to trick you into giving them your personal information. They often send emails that look legitimate but contain malicious links or attachments.

How Phishing Works?

Phishers create fake websites and emails designed to steal your login credentials, account numbers, or credit card info. They may claim there’s an issue with your account or that you’ve won a prize. Whatever the ruse, they want the same thing: your data.

Once you click a link or download an attachment, phishing software instantly gets installed to steal your info. The phishers then use your data to access accounts, make purchases, or commit identity fraud.

Key Differences Between Spam and Phishing

Spamming and phishing are two common cyber threats, but they differ in some important ways:

  1. Types

Spam refers to unsolicited bulk messages, usually commercial in nature, sent indiscriminately to many recipients. Phishing messages are crafted to target specific individuals or groups by impersonating a legitimate company or website to trick people into providing sensitive data like account numbers, passwords, or credit card numbers.

  1. Nature of attack

Spam is annoying but typically harmless. Phishing, on the other hand, aims to steal personal information or install malware, so it can lead to identity theft, financial fraud, or other cybercrimes.

  1. Identification

Spam is easy to spot because it often contains poor grammar, exaggerated claims, or urgent language trying to sell you something. Phishing emails are more sophisticated, closely imitating official communications from a reputable company to appear authentic and bait unsuspecting users into clicking malicious links or downloading attachments.

  1. End goal

The sender of spam messages is usually trying to sell a dubious product or service to make money. The phisher’s goal is to access your sensitive data and accounts for criminal purposes like fraud or theft.

Detailed Difference of Spam vs Phishing

spam vs phishing
DefinitionUnsolicited content often in the form of emails sent in bulk.Deceptive method used to trick recipients into revealing sensitive information.
PurposeCan vary from advertising a product to spreading malware.To obtain sensitive information such as login credentials, credit card numbers, etc.
TargetUsually sent to a large number of people without their consent.Usually sent to a large number of people without their consent.
Potential harmCan be annoying and may contain harmful links or attachments.Can lead to identity theft, financial loss, and other serious consequences.
Method of ActionMass distribution of the same message to multiple recipients.Crafted to appear as a legitimate request from a reputable source to an individual or small group.
PreventionUse spam filters, do not open messages from unknown senders, refrain from clicking on suspicious links.Be cautious about providing personal information online, verify messages with the supposed sender, use secure and updated browsers.

How to Identify and Avoid Spam?

How to Identify and Avoid Spam

To avoid spam and phishing attempts, it’s important to identify them before they trick you. Here are a few tips to spot spam:

1. Sender information

Check who the email is from. Spam often comes from unknown or unverified senders. Legitimate companies will have the company name in the sender information. Delete any messages from senders you don’t recognize.

2. Urgency and poor grammar

Be wary of messages conveying a sense of urgency or poor grammar/spelling. Legitimate companies take time to proofread and have proper grammar. Pressuring you to act quickly is a red flag.

3. Requests for sensitive information

Never provide sensitive data like passwords, social security numbers or credit card numbers in response to an email. Legitimate companies don’t ask for sensitive information via email.

4. Unsolicited attachments and links

Don’t open attachments or click links from unsolicited emails. They often contain malware viruses or lead to phishing sites. Delete the email instead.

5. Too good to be true

Offers that seem too good to be true usually are. Extravagant prizes, lottery winnings or inheritances from unknown senders are scams. Legitimate sweepstakes don’t notify winners via email.

Staying vigilant and wary of unsolicited messages can help you avoid the tricks of spammers and phishers. When in doubt, it’s best to delete the email. Your personal information and security are too valuable to fall victim to their cons.

What is the difference between direct e-mailing and Spam?

Direct email marketing and spam are not the same. As a business, you want to build relationships with your customers, not annoy them. Make sure any email campaigns follow anti-spam laws and best practices.

With direct emailing, you have an existing business relationship with the recipient. They opted in to receive messages from you, likely by signing up on your website or making a purchase. You have their permission to send relevant offers and updates.

Spam, on the other hand, is unsolicited bulk email. The recipients did not ask to receive messages from you. Sending spam can damage your brand and violate laws like CASL or GDPR.

Some tips for responsible email marketing:

  • Only email contacts who opted in or gave consent
  • Make unsubscribing easy in every email
  • Send valuable content, not just sales pitches
  • Keep lists up to date by removing inactive contacts
  • Follow recommended send frequencies (e.g. monthly)
  • Be transparent in your subject lines and preheaders

Build trust and engagement with your contacts through direct email done right. Keep spam out of your outreach strategy!

Types of Phishing

Phishing emails come in all shapes and sizes, but there are a few common categories to look out for:

  1. Spear Phishing

Spear phishing targets specific individuals, often with personal information used to build trust. These are often the hardest to spot.

  1. Whale Phishing

Whale phishing targets high-profile individuals like politicians or executives.

  1. Clone Phishing

Clone phishing copies a legitimate email to trick the recipient, often to steal login credentials or account information.

  1. SMS Phishing

SMS phishing (smishing) sends malicious links through text messages. Never click links or provide info from an unsolicited text.

How to prevent phishing attacks?

How to prevent phishing attacks

To prevent phishing attacks, there are a few key steps you can take:

1. Be wary of unsolicited requests

Never provide sensitive information like passwords, social security numbers, or credit card numbers to anyone contacting you unexpectedly. Legitimate companies will not ask for sensitive data through email or text.

2. Verify the source

Double check the sender’s email address or phone number to make sure it’s legitimate. Phishing emails often look like they’re from a reputable company but have slight differences in the address or domain. When in doubt, contact the company directly instead of using any links or numbers in the message.

3. Watch for urgency or threats

Be suspicious of messages conveying a sense of urgency or threatening account closure if you don’t act quickly. Legitimate companies will not threaten or demand sensitive information under pressure.

4. Confirm requests independently

If an message is requesting sensitive data or account access, contact the company directly through their official website or phone number to confirm the request is valid before proceeding. Never use links, phone numbers or account information in the actual message.

Does AstrillVPN Protect Against Spam and Phishing?

A VPN provides an encrypted tunnel for your Internet traffic, hiding your online activity and location. This does offer some protection against spam and phishing.

AstrillVPN helps protect you from spam and phishing in a few ways:

Filters and Blocks

AstrillVPN uses advanced spam filters to detect and block unwanted messages before they even reach your inbox. It analyzes incoming emails for common signs of spam like strange sender addresses or suspicious links and attachments. Anything suspicious gets marked as spam and sent to your spam folder.

AstrillVPN also actively blocks known phishing sites and malware hosts. If you accidentally click a phishing link or download a malicious file, AstrillVPN prevents your device from connecting to those threats. This adds an extra layer of protection when spam and phishing messages slip through.


AstrillVPN uses strong encryption to secure all your online activity and communications. Even if spammers or phishers could see your internet traffic, they wouldn’t be ablfe to read it. Your emails, messages, passwords, and other sensitive data are hidden behind a veil of encryption.

In summary, AstrillVPN helps shield you from the dangers of spam, phishing, and online fraud through proactive blocking, strong encryption, and account security features like Kill Switch and Website filter. With AstrillVPN by your side, you can feel confident clicking, sharing, and communicating online.


Many people confuse spam and phishing emails. Let’s clear up some common questions:

Is phishing a virus?

No, phishing emails themselves are not viruses. They are fraudulent messages designed to trick you into providing sensitive data or downloading malicious software. Phishing emails often contain links or attachments with viruses, but the email itself is not a virus.

Is phishing an email?

Yes, phishing refers to scam emails that attempt to steal your personal information. Phishing emails are crafted to look like legitimate messages from companies you know, like your bank, credit card issuer or email provider. They try to trick you into entering account numbers, passwords, or clicking links that download malware.

Is phishing a hacker?

Not exactly. Phishing emails are sent by cybercriminals to illegally obtain access to people’s accounts and personal data. The criminals who orchestrate phishing campaigns are hackers, but phishing itself refers to the scam messages they distribute, not the individuals.


Now you know the difference between spam and phishing and can spot each one before falling victim to their tricks. While technology has made communication more convenient, it’s also enabled new forms of deception. But forewarned is forearmed, right? Keep your guard up, trust your instincts, and don’t become another statistic. Outsmart the scammers and stay safe online. The spam and phishes of the world don’t stand a chance against an eagle-eyed, savvy person like yourself.

About The Author

Bisma Farrukh

Bisma is a seasoned writer passionate about topics like cybersecurity, privacy and data breach issues. She has been working in VPN industry for more than 5 years now and loves to talk about security issues. She loves to explore the books and travel guides in her leisure time.

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