According to the LearnFree.org website, many of the unwanted emails we call "spam" aren't trying to sell you something--they are trying to steal your money or personal information. These email scams usually promise you something that's too good to be true or make you think something bad will happen if you don't take action. These include work-at-home offers, weight-loss claims, debt-relief programs, and cure-all formulas.
Here are two types of email scams to avoid:
- The Advance Fee Fraud promises you something if you provide the sender with a certain amount of money. It's different from other email scams because you are actually corresponding with a real person who is trying to mislead you by sharing a personal sad story with you--and the story is almost ALWAYS false. Remember the Nigerian Prince hoax?
- Phishing (pronounced "fishing") scams start with an email that pretends to be from a bank or trusted institution. It may urgently warn you to take immediate action by clicking a link and providing information like your username, your banking information, and your password. Very often, a phishing email can be spotted by examining the sender's email address or noting poor grammar and spelling errors, but the phishers are getting much better at hiding their scams. To view a sample of a phishing email, click here.
It's not always easy to spot a scam, but here are some ways to combat the cons:
- Don't click links in email messages, particularly if the message seems unusual or urgent. For example, if you receive an email from a company telling you that there has been a a possible unauthorized charge on your account, go to the company's website directly or call the number on your credit card to verify that the notice is legitimate.
- Be suspicious of something-for-nothing or get-rich-quick scams. For example, the Federal Trade Commission has just filed charges against two high school diploma companies that sold consumers worthless pieces of paper for $250.
- No legitimate business will ever ask you for your password via email. That includes the IRS and other government agencies (they don't use email at all to communicate) and the St. Mary Parish School Board's Technology Department.
- Educate yourself using websites like Snopes.com, the Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Information Scam Alert site, and OnGuardOnline.gov which provide information about current email and telephone scams.
- Test your phishing knowledge with this online test--you might learn something important!