Email scams can take many forms, and one could consider phishing attacks and hoaxes as a form of scam. Email fraud is also used to steal identities.9 In this section we specifically address financial scams that arrive in your email inbox.
One of the most famous financial scams propagated via email is the 419 or Nigerian scam. In this scam, someone claiming to be a member of the Nigerian royal family has to move a very large sum of money out of the country and needs your help. You know where this is going.
Lottery scams inform you that you have won a lottery or some other contest. You will, of course, be asked at some point to provide credit card or bank account information so they can clean you out.
The first type [hoax e-lottery winner notifications] is a notice sent to a receiver’s inbox informing him/her that he/she has won an online lottery worth millions of US dollars or euros from a “Microsoft Online Promotion,” “UK National Lottery Board,” “E-Lottery Bonanza,” or “Australia Lotto Lottery Inc.” The aim is perhaps to get the attention of the receiver and eventually ask him/her to pay a fee before he/she could claim the prize money.10
Another scam involves a hot girl who wants to get to know you. Typically this just starts with an email that seems innocent enough. The “hot girl” just wants to become your friend. It’s all about social engineering. Once they have you hooked emotionally, they’re going to come up with some sort of dire financial emergency that only you can help with. Don’t ask me how I know this. I just do.
A more recent development starts with a hacked email account. In this situation, you get an email sent from the account of someone you know. Since the hackers have access to an actual email account, and that account may contain other emails sent to you, these emails are sometimes correctly addressed to the recipient. These emails generally state that the individual is somewhere overseas and has been robbed (or experienced some other financial setback). They need money wired in order to get out of trouble, or to get on the plane, or for some other pretext. When you see this one, and it’s actually a friend of yours, you will know that their account has been hacked, and you should contact them (in some way other than email, of course) to let them know.
You get the idea. You don’t need an itemized list of all scams that will ever be launched via email in order to be safe. You just need to keep in mind a few danger signs:
- A perfect stranger wants to give you money. Um. No.
- A perfect stranger thinks you’re hot and wants to get to know you better. I don’t think so.
- Everything is urgent. They are in dire circumstances, or the window of opportunity is closing really fast. Too good to be true? Yes it is.
- The sender doesn’t address you by name even though they say they are your bank, or they got your email from a friend, or they saw a picture of you somewhere. “Dear Trusted Bank, I think you are lying to me.”
- The email only contains a link. If you receive an email with only a link (and maybe some generic phrase, like “You have to see this to believe it!”), don’t click! It will only lead to trouble.