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How You Can Spot Email Scams

Jun 17, 2008
Most of us get spam trying to sell us things, most commonly prescriptions, cheap mortgage rates, online gambling and other, more "adult" topics. Most of us just delete them or hit the "spam" button and move on. There are some other types of spam that are a little more serious, however.

One well-known example, circulating for years now, is the Nigerian bank scam. The sender, allegedly the wife or relative of a former dictator or government official (usually in Nigeria, hence the name) tells the sad story of how millions were deposited in a bank account which is no longer accessible. In exchange for your help, they're willing to share this wealth - for a few mere thousands from your bank account for 'expenses'. As ludicrous as it seems, people fall for this every year. In one well-publicized case an elderly Czech man who had lost his life savings to this scam shot the Nigerian consul in Prague.

Other scams offer investments with huge paybacks. They always claim to be risk-free naturally, but once you've sent them your money it's highly unlikely you'll ever see any of it again, let alone profit. A similar scam involves credit cards for people with poor credit ratings. You send them a security deposit and processing charge and they send you a credit card. Unfortunately, once they have your fees you'll never hear from them again.

These fake offers are particularly bad for legitimate businesses who use email for doing business. Because so much email is spam, the internet service providers and email hosting companies work hard to filter it out. But these filters can sometimes stop legitimate email from businesses you want to hear from.

How To Avoid Getting Stung

Never reply to spam. Doing so simply indicates to the spammer that your e-mail address is valid, and you'll receive more spam than before. Some spam contains a message offering to remove your e-mail address from their mailing list. Don't use even this service - it's nothing but another method for verifying e-mail addresses.

Above all, never give your credit card number, bank account details or private data to anyone unknown over the Internet. PayPal, for example, and other legitimate online businesses will never ask for your password in an email. One common scam is to fake return addresses and tailor subject lines and content so the message appears to be from them or another financial institution 'confirming' your information. Don't fall for them.

What is spam to one person may be a welcomed advertisement to another, so it isn't a simple thing to stop. But in general, if you don't recognize the person sending you the message, it's probably not someone you wanted to hear from. After all, how many former dictators can there really be in Nigeria?
About the Author
Are you wonder how to safely avoid spam and other online security threats? Find out how to stop spam and other threats on the Online Security Toolkit website. Visit http://www.onlinesecuritytoolkit.com for more information.
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