Tips for Avoiding Spam Scams

Unscrupulous advertisers and other scam artists have attempted to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers since the day the first e-mail was sent. These group and individuals send out millions of unsolicited messages pleading for financial help or offering deals that are too good to resist. The senders portray themselves as everything from deposed African dictators to US soldiers seeking assistance from a fellow American. Thousands of those who receive these messages each year fall victim to these schemes, often referred to as “spam scams”.

What are “Spam Scams”?

“Spam scams” start when a sender composes an unsolicited commercial e-mail message (“spam”) and blasts it out to millions of unsuspecting account holders. The message requests sensitive information from the recipient, such as bank account numbers or identity data like a social security number, in exchange for a prize or cash reward. When the recipient sends the information back to the original sender, that sender will often use the data to steal the recipient’s identity and ruin his or her credit standing, without ever sending the promised reward.

Spam Scam #1: Nigerian Scam

The “Nigerian scam” (also known as the “419 scam” after the section of the country’s fraud laws) is one of the most popular and lucrative of the major e-mail scams. The sender portrays himself as a native of an African country who must move millions of dollars from his homeland to the US, but needs an account in a US-based bank. If the recipient supplies the sender with his bank account information, the sender promises to split the massive fortune after the deposit clears.

View an example of a 419 scam.

Spam Scam #2: Spoofing

E-mail messages that engage in “spoofing” (also called “phishing”) often resemble those from legitimate companies. The will frequently display the logos, graphics and other trademarks that would make it look like a request for information from a bank, retailer or service provider. The message may ask for information that it should already have as a “confirmation”. The recipient, believing that the senders are who they say they are, send sensitive account information to those committing fraud and often find they are missing funds or have had their identity stolen.

View an example of a spoofing message.

Spam Scam #3: Work At Home

With millions of Americans struggling to find work, scammers have stepped in to promise the ultimate job: work from home and get paid thousands of dollars a month. Most of these jobs only require menial tasks, such as stuffing envelopes, assembling kits or “mystery shopping” and all of the pertinent information regarding the opportunity can be theirs if they pay a small fee. The scammer lets the recipient know that the “fee” is only to cover expenses and is simply to ensure that the recipient qualifies for this unique program.

View an example of a “work-at-home” scam.

How to Avoid Spam Scams

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers some suggestions on how to avoid becoming a victim of an e-mail, spam scam.

  • Recipients should consider an unsolicited commercial e-mail message in the same light as an unsolicited telemarketing call.
  • Recipients should treat any form of money-making solicitation with caution and skepticism.
  • Recipients should never send any sensitive information over an unsecured (http://) connection. All banks, retailers and providers use a secure (https://) connection to transmit sensitive data.

How to Report Spam Scams

If you are a victim of a spam scam, or if you suspect that a message you’ve received is part of such a scam, contact state and federal authorities immediately. The Attorney General’s Office of almost every state has a cyber-crimes division that pursues and prosecutes e-mail scam artists. The FTC also has a department that deals with spammers. Recipients can forward any suspect messages to spam@uce.gov.

Also, recipients can report any unsolicited mail messages to their internet service provider (ISP). The server administrators at the ISP can block messages from that sender.

E-mail scams are still a prevalent part of life on the internet. However, one ancient rule can protect victims of this 21st-century crime: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.