Scams are really nothing new. For as longs as people have been interacting with each other, there have been unscrupulous individuals attempting to dupe others out of what is rightfully theirs. However, with the advent and subsequent worldwide proliferation of the internet, the sheer volume of scams has increased a thousandfold.
Perhaps it has something to do with the relative safety and anonymity that internet scam artists enjoy, or their ability to reach millions of potential victims through the use of automated programs and malware. Whatever the case, if you communicate with people over the internet, you’re at risk of being scammed. And when it comes to the prefered method, many online con artists stick with the tried and true path of the email scam. So, for your protection, here are five of the most dangerous email scams that you may have seen pop up in your inbox at one time or another (or might even be sitting there right now).
1. The UPS Package Scam
Who wouldn’t want to get a nice, unexpected delivery? The UPS package scam plays on our love of gifts by sending an email claiming to be from the UPS Packet Service. The email states that UPS attempted to deliver a package to your home, but could not because of an address error. It then suggests that you open the attachment that came with the email so that you can get everything sorted out.
Most people don’t think twice about following these legitimate-looking instructions, but they really should. For one thing, how does UPS have your email address, but not you street address? If anything, UPS would probably be more likely to contact the sender, rather than the recipient of a failed delivery. Sure enough, if you click the attachment you’ll have a special virus downloaded into your computer which will then comb through your files and steal any personal information it can get to. Delete the email without opening it, and if you think that you might actually have a package waiting for you, call your local UPS store to verify.
2. 419 Scams
Also known as Nigerian Prince scams, are emails that seem to be a genuine plea for help from someone in need (usually a deposed monarch). The email usually explains that a large sum of money needs to be moved into an offshore account not associated with the original sender. It suggests that if you would be willing to help, you would be entitled to a large percentage of that money. However, in order to get the money moving, you’ll need to make a small, initial investment. You may also be asked to supply the email writer with personal information and bank account data.
Of course, if you fall for scam and send any of these things, you’ll just receive more emails informing you that the process has hit certain complications, and more money is needed for charges, fines, or bribes. You may also receive official looking documents regarding the transfer, but one thing that you will never get is money. The Nigerian scam is one of the oldest email scams around, but even today it is still going strong. It is also one of the few cyber security scams that has actually resulted in loss of life; from 1992-1995, 15 people were murdered after responding to Nigerian 419 scams that eventually led them to visit the country in question at the behest of the email writers. Others have been held for ransom. Never respond to any sort of email that promises huge monetary returns for small fees.
3. Phishing Scams
Phishing scams show up in your email as simple reminders to update your personal information with your bank or Paypal account. If you click the link they provide, they will take you to a very official looking web page in which you will be asked to provide some personal informations (such as a bank username and password) so that you can verify that everything is up to date. If you go ahead and provide that information, the scammers will be able to use it to access your real accounts and help themselves to whatever you have inside.
Ignore any emails that suggest you provide personal information. Legitimate companies almost never contact you asking for sensitive data, so be very wary when you get an email like this. Again, if you want to investigate further, contact the bank and ask them if they have recently sent you an emails regarding your personal data.
4. Threat Scams
This one is more likely to get your heart racing than a simple “please send money” scam. The email claims to be from a contract killer who has been hired to murder you. However, the killer would rather not kill you if he doesn’t have to, and will accept payment instead. The email may even include details about your life, thus giving it the appearance of credibility. However, the ‘details’ will be ones that are easily found online, and the ‘killer’ will just end up being another scam artists attempting to prey on your fear. If you receive one of these, you can simply ignore it, and you’ll be just fine; a real contract killer isn’t going to risk his reputation and his freedom by contacting his target and giving away his plans. However, if you’re really spooked, you can contact the FBI and have them look into the matter.
5. Charity Scams
While some other scams play upon your greed, fear, or simple gullibility, charity scams play upon some of humanity’s better qualities, namely our empathy and generosity. The emails make reference to some recent disaster, and ask that you donate a small amount to a charity to help those who were affected by the tragedy. Ironically, the email itself may warn you to beware of online fraud, and it will contain an attachment to a very official looking web page where you can make an online donation.
Of course, the email, the website, and certainly the poor people in need are all just part of the scam. Ignore any emails that come to you and ask you for donations. If you would like to donate to a worthy cause, visit the webpage of whichever charity you prefer, or call them on the telephone. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to help, but if you’re not careful when dealing with email scams, the only people you’ll end up helping are criminals.
A good piece of advice is this: Keep your computer’s virus protection up to date, and if you don’t know the person who is sending you the email, then don’t even open it. The evolution of cybercrime is constantly producing new scams and reinventing the old ones, but you can remain safe if you’re careful not to take anything you see in your inbox at face value.
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