10 Ways to Spot an E-Mail Scam
E-mail scams and phishing attempts evolve constantly, hoping to take advantage of the latest trends and current events. Although the e-mails change, the people behind them inadvertently send up the same warning signs again and again. We dug through mountains of spam to find the most prevailing trends. We've collected some actual scam e-mails and highlighted the warning signs to help you spot a hustle the next time one lands in your inbox.
1. Requests for personal information
No legitimate organization will ask for your social security, bank account or PIN number via e-mail – and none will include a link, sending you to a form to enter it. No matter how authentic these emails may look, ignore 'em.
2. Watch for typos or spelling mistakes
Scam artists are street smart, but many flunked basic grammar (or barely speak English). Look for mistakes like inappropriate hyphens or confusing "your" and "you're." If the note has multiple typos or grammatical errors, odds are it's not legitimate.
3. Clickable Web links in e-mails
Don't trust links to Web sites in e-mails. What might look like a legitimate address is often linked to a third-party site that looks official, but is actually run by thieves and scammers. These are the fast track to identity and financial theft.
4. 'Market research' or surveys that ask you for personal information.
Disguising scam e-mails as marketing is a classic ploy. You'll be asked to fill out a survey or enter a contest – requiring you to give personal information or "log on" to your account. Once you've done so, the scammers can use it themselves.
5. Stock tips from random people or companies
Got a "hot stock tip" via e-mail? It's probably a "pump and dump" scheme. The sender already owns shares – and when you and others act on the "tip," the stock price soars and he sells fast – leaving you with virtually worthless shares.
6. Attachments in e-mails from anyone you don't know
It should be common sense, but just in case, we'll remind you again: Don't open an attachment from someone you don't know – even if it appears to be your bank or credit card company. It's almost always a virus or spyware meant to steal your personal information.
7. Wordless e-mails
Some legitimate looking "e-mails" are actually just images. The danger with these is that clicking anywhere in the body takes you to a suspect Web site – where you may be fooled into entering personal information, or the scammer may slip spyware onto your machine.
8. Outdated information
Some scammers like to pose as technical- or customer support from a company you associate with – but fail to keep up with current events. For example, in the example above, the senders forgot that Earthlink bought Mindspring in 2000.
9. Red-flag phrases
If you see the phrases "verify your account," "you have won the lottery" or "if you don't respond within XX hours, your account will be closed," it's a scam – every time. Hit the delete button and don't look back.
10. Generic greetings
While you can't trust every e-mail that knows your name, you can definitely ignore the ones that start "Dear member" or "Hello friend." If your bank or credit card company is writing you, it knows who you are. So do your friends.