Email Scams Explained

E-mail Scams and Hoaxes

Ever wondered if anyone makes the money promised in those work-at-home advertisements? Or if each forwarded e-mail will really mean a donation from Bill Gates to one of his many charitable organizations? The answer is probably not. These stories are part of the many urban legends, e-mail hoaxes and scams found in your in-box.

Some rules of thumb for spotting scams and hoaxes are:

1. If an e-mail just screams "PASS ME AROUND!", be suspicious.

2. If an e-mail is second hand infomation with no reliable source for verification, be suspicious.

3. If an e-mail asks for your money, bank or your credit card info and promises to make you rich, or claims to be legal, be very, very suspicious!

One of the techniques online predators use to capture your personal information is "Phishing" (pronounced -fishing). Phishing is the practice of luring unsuspecting people to a fake website by using authentic-looking e-mail or instant messaging, sometimes even using the real organization's name and logo, in an attempt to steal your personal data, such as credit card numbers, passwords, account data, or other personal information. The following are some tips to help protect yourself from phishing and e-mail scams of the most popular and most creative e-mail hoaxes waiting in your in-boxes.

Suspicious E-mails


Read your e-mails carefully. E-mails that are poorly worded, have typos, or have phrases such as "this is not a joke" or "forward this message to your friends" are generally scams. Sometimes company names or brands are misspelled or inaccurate; such as saying GeeMail instead of Gmail by GoogleTM or Wells Fargon Bank instead of Wells Fargo BankTM.

E-mails Requesting Your Personal Information


If you get any e-mail asking for your name, birth date, social security number, e-mail username, e-mail password, or any other type of personal information, no matter who the e-mail appears to be from, is almost certainly a scam.

If you have any reason to believe it may be legitimate, do not reply to the e-mail or click any hyperlinks; instead copy and paste the web URL or go to that company's website for contact information. Don't hesitate to contact the company's support channel to confirm legitimacy or check out a site such as or, which lists e-mail scams.

Remember, phone phishing is possible too so be suspicious when you get a direct call or voice message asking you to call back and provide your bank or credit card information.

Protecting your PC Passwords

Create a strong password for your PC and e-mail accounts by using more than 7 characters and having a combination of upper and lower case characters, numbers, and special characters, like the @ or # symbols. It's also a good idea to change your password on a regular basis.

If you receive a notification from your e-mail provide confirming your request to change your password and you haven't recently changed your password, that's a signal that someone else may be trying to gain access to your e-mail account, and you should immediately change your password.

To do so, go to your e-mail account preferences that can be reached by going to your "Home" page or sometimes just labeled "My Account." Then, go to "Password Reset Information" or sometimes labeled, "Change Your Password" while you're in your e-mail account. Change both your password and your Secret Question/Secret Answer (if possible) as both may have been compromised.

Preventive Measures

If you think someone has accessed your e-mail account, that the sign-in page looks different, strange looking or you receive a suspicious e-mail that tries to confirm a password change you didn't authorize, change your password immediately. Whatever you do, do not reply back to the sender. Next, help ensure your PC has not been infected with a virus or malware by running PC scanning software that can be found free on the Internet. If you don't already have a program on your computer, consider purchasing Internet Security Software to protect your PC and valuable data.

Some Common Scams and Myths

Scam Letter from a Foreign Country

These types of e-mails are usually from a fake foreign Prince, President, Prime Minster or living heir to some fortune who needs to get some money out of their name and/or country. So, they need you to give them your bank account and/or personal information so you can help them transfer the money to your account. And, if you do this they will share the millions with you. Not! This is a scam. All they really want is you bank account so they can take your money.

Forwarded E-mail for Money Scam

If you get an e-mail that ask you to forward the e-mail and you will receive some money, prize or they will donate money on your behalf, don't do it. Another scam.

Work-at-Home Scam

We all get the work-at-home e-mails where you can make millions at your own pace with no experience required, no interview and little or no work. Does this sound too good to be true? Yes and probably a scam too. These companies or individuals will ask you to purchase equipment and/or supplies from them to perform the "job." That's how they make their money. You will invest and not make money but instead lose your money.

Receive Big Money by Sending Us a Few Dollars

You send them $5 or $10 to the address listed in the e-mail and they will send you much more money later as more names are added to their list. But what you really get in return for your money is nothing, because this too is a scam or a Pyramid scheme. Plus you will have just been duped into participating in mail fraud because this is illegal.

You've won the Lotto!

If you get an e-mail saying you've won the lotto, a free trip or a big prize, just call or e-mail them your contact and/or bank information and they will send your prize right away. They may even ask you to just pay the taxes for your winnings and then you'll get the prize. Don't do it! Another scam. This type of scam can also take place over the telephone so don't be fooled.

Long-Distance Charges on E-mail

So, you got a forwarded e-mail that says you will soon be charged for your long-distance e-mails, just like you are charged for long-distance phone calls. "Oh, really?" You say. And what will the phone company use to compute your bill -- its e-mail tracker? Again, not! No one is going to charge you long distance for your e-mails. This is an e-mail myth and there is no such thing as an "E-mail Tracker."

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