of Common Email Scams
Most email scams end
up involving requests to send money, cash checks, establish business relationships
or requests for information. Here are some examples.
This scam has been used for decades and has migrated from mail to faxes
to email. An email will often start off with an introduction indicating
that a government official (or some other person that would appear to
have access to large amounts of funds) has died and left a large amount
of money that is available to be transferred. The message then encourages
the recipient to participate in the transfer in return for a share of
the funds. Over time, the sender may ask for funds to cover taxes, bribes
to others and legal fees that will be reimbursed once the funds are transferred.
There is no deceased
official and no funds available to be transferred. The scam appeals to
an individual's greed and a willingness to skirt foreign laws. Over the
years, the deceased individual has been described as a minister of mining
or natural resources, successful business owners and royalty. The locations
have also changed over time.
African, Netherlands, United Kingdom, "You Name It" Lottery
This scam appeals to one's greed and sense of being lucky. An email will
arrive notifying the recipient that they have won a lottery. The email
may even mention a legitimate lottery organization, but just because the
email includes that name, the email is not from the organization. There
is usually a request to keep the winning secret. The email then asks that
a claims agent (or some other official sounding person) be contacted to
arrange for payment. Once those conversations start, there is usually
a request for funds to cover taxes, legal fees or other processing costs.
There are several
things that should make one very suspicious:
- Unless you bought
a lottery ticket, you are not going to win.
- Any taxes on lottery
winnings are withheld from the payments and not paid up front.
- Legitimate lottery
organizations do not charge fees.
- Most of these emails
come from free email accounts like Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail, MSN or those
provided by an Internet service provider.
Check Cashing Schemes
These may take the form of an email indicating that the sender wants someone
to cash checks in return for keeping a portion. "I will send a check
made payable to you drawn on XYZ Bank in the amount of $10,000. All you
have to do is deposit it. In return for doing this, you can keep $1,000
and wire $9,000 back to me."
This scam is usually
promoted through emails but may also be found on job listing sites. The
original check and the scam artist are usually from overseas, but not
The check may look
real, but in reality, there is no account or the account has insufficient
funds to cover the check. Because of the way check clearing works, funds
are probably available to be transferred out before the incoming check
has actually cleared. In this scam, the victim wires the $9,000 to the
thief and a couple of days later receives word that the check he received
has bounced. The result is a loss of $9,000.
These schemes can take many forms, but usually involve an email indicating
that the recipient has a refund due, but needs to provide information
to speed the processing of the refund. The scam artists may claim to represent
the IRS, state tax officials or even stores where someone may have purchased
The email directs
the recipient to a website that may look legitimate but is a faked or
spoofed site. Once there, the person will be requested to provide various
personal information such as Social Security number, credit card number
or account information so the refund can be directly deposited.
Providing this information
is dangerous. Once in the hands of a fraudster, it can lead to credit
card fraud, unauthorized access to your financial accounts or identity
The IRS and most state
taxing authorities do not use email to correspond about refunds. Commercial
establishments may use email but you should be very wary of emails like
this. Before providing the information online, contact the establishment
by phone to make sure the request for information is legitimate.
Emails that request sensitive information are often called phishing emails.
They often take the form of a message from a financial institution asking
for the recipient to provide their account information due to a computer
error, as part of a system upgrade or even as part of an enhanced Internet
The recipient is usually
directed to website that may look real, but is not. The information requested
may include account numbers, user names, access codes and passwords. All
of this information is dangerous in the hands of scam artists.
never ask for this type of information. If you receive this type of phishing
email, contact your institution.