Avoiding E-mail Scams: Don't Get Taken

Typical Scam E-mail Messages

Email is a valuable and instantaneous form of communication, replacing in many instances the outmoded form of a postal letter. Along with the ability to deliver mail electronically to another party comes a new opportunity, one for thieves and con artists. The email message typically starts out with a messages along the lines of :

Scam Artists' Creativity

The creativity of the scam artists trolling the web is boundless. Every scam has a pitch. Some are to convince you of a great business opportunity. Others are to convince you that you have won millions of dollars in a lottery you never entered. There are those with the great business opportunity, and those convincing you that your Visa account, Bank account or Amazon account is in immediate jeopardy of being "cancelled" if you do not log in and "verify" or "update" your personal information.

All of these have one goal in common though; they are either out in the long run to steal your money or your identity. Responding to fraudulent emails may allow thieves access to your bank accounts or your lines of credit on your revolving charge accounts. Even if you have bad credit, providing your identity and personal information to unknown persons can enable them to assume your identity, obtain employment illegally, and commit crimes for which you may ultimately fall into suspicion. Opening any attachment to fraudulent emails can result in some circumstances in Trojan horse or spyware being loaded into your computer. You may not even know your credit has been ruined until you have your card cancelled for real, receive a bill with hundreds or thousands of dollars of charges you did not make, or find your bank account looted.

Organized Crime

Many of the fraudulent emails forwarded over the Internet are from organized crime operations in other countries. Nigeria is a popular home site for these operations. The emails will claim to be from business professionals, bankers, or government officials. Often they will claim your help is needed in "transferring funds" to your account. The initial letter will claim you were referred by a "confidential source" or by a "mutual business acquaintance" and that your account information is needed to facilitate the transfer. If you respond to the initial email, the con artists will often seek to have you pay a fee or "taxes" on the funds to be transferred. If you say you want verification the offer is legitimate, official looking documents may be sent to you via regular or email. These documents may include fraudulent or forged checks and presenting them to a bank may bring you under suspicion of fraud or attempted theft. If you pay the "fee" or "taxes" the funds promised transferred will never materialize. There have actually been reports that people responding to such emails have been victimized, injured or even killed by the criminals involved in the con operation.

Other emails are sent asking you to "verify" your account information by clicking onto a link provided in the email message. These emails may appear to come from legitimate business or banking companies in the United States. Often the con artists sending these so-called "phishing" emails will even steal the logo, trademarks and general appearance of the business or bank purportedly sending the email. If you click the link on the email sent to you, you will be transferred to the con artists' website, again having the look and feel of the legitimate business, where your user identification, account number and password are recorded by the criminals. Thereafter, they have free reign to your account information, and possibly have enough information to even arrange for the transfer of your account balances out of the country.

Avoid Being Taken

To avoid being taken, subscribe to the philosophy that you are not going to win a lottery you did not enter, you are not going to be invited to become involved in some lucrative business opportunity through the referral of an unnamed acquaintance, and you are never going to be asked to "verify" any account information by a legitimate business or bank. If you receive any email indicating your account privileges are going to be "revoked" or are "limited" simply ignore them. If you, in fact, are denied access to your account, call the bank or business. Odds are that will never happen.

If you, in fact, desire to check out the legitimacy of a suspicious email, go directly to the website of the business or bank by opening a browser, and typing in the correct URL for that bank or business. Do not use the link to any website to which you may be directed in the suspicious email. Locate the security center for the bank or business, and send them a copy of the email you received. Often you will receive a reply indicating the email was fraudulent. Alternatively, call the business or bank directly and ask them if any unusual activity has occurred in your account. Usually you will find no activity has occurred, and it won't unless you respond to the fraudulent email.

You can also make a significant improvement in the security of your computer to avoid malicious software being loaded onto your machine by installing and updating regularly good quality antivirus software such as Norton's Anitvirus or McAfee security software. The installation of a firewall to keep unwanted intrusions into your machine is also quite helpful.

The bottom line is to be suspicious of any email from any source that asks you for personal information. If a bank has your personal information, they don't need to ask you for anything over the Internet. If an on-line store appears to be threatening to cut off your account privileges, call them directly. Do not respond over the Internet. Be suspicious, be wise, and be safe.

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