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Home > Risks > Email Scams 

Email Scams

Unfortunately, the bad guys are always two or three steps ahead of us when it comes to developing new ways to scam us out of our money...and it very often involves our email. In addition, many of these email solicitations contain computer viruses, making them even more of a menace—so be very cautious. Be sure to maintain current anti-virus software

Below we have listed some of the more popular schemes currently. For a more complete list, the following are excellent sources:
Federal Trade Commission's Scam Alerts page
List of Internet Scams (FBI - Internet Crime Complaint Center)

Comparitech's How to Identify and Avoid Email Scams page

Tech Support Scam

The scammer initially contacts you through a phone call, saying that they are from Windows, Microsoft, or other technology company. They claim that they have noticed you have a problem with your computer. This so-called problem may take the form of malicious software, program errors, or possibly computer stoppages.

Regardless—this is a scam! No tech company will ever call you out of the blue to inform you of a problem. Never.

Immediately hang up. Do not be fooled by anything they may say. They are NOT trying to help you. They are merely trying to get your money, or control of your computer. Maybe both. You have no obligation to treat them with politeness—their goal is to rob you. Just hang up.

IRS Phone Scam

(While technically this is not an online scam, we are including it on this page because it has become so prevalent.)

As with the Tech Support scam, it comes to you through a phone call. Usually a recording (but sometimes a live person), it will say something like this: "The reason of this call is to inform you that IRS is filing lawsuit against you. To get more information about this case file, please call immediately xxx-xxx-xxxx.”

Once again, DO NOT RESPOND to this. The IRS does not do business this way. If they want to get in touch with you, they send you a letter, usually on really nice stationary. Do NOT call the number. If it's a live person on the other end, just hang up. Remember, don't worry about being rude or hurting their feelings -- they want to rob you.

Real Estate Scams

Scams involving real estate transaction usually take one of two forms:

  • First, a thief will fraudulently list for rent a vacation property that they do not own.
  • Second, the thief will contact you saying they want to rent your property.


Advanced Fee Scams

"... My aim of contacting you is to seek your assistance in transferring the sum of thirty five million united states dollars only out of Nigeria and into your trusted bank account abroad...."

Often referred to as a Nigerian scam letter, or a four-one-nine scam, these letters combine the threat of identity theft with the old "advance fee scheme."

A letter or email--sometimes from Nigeria, but it might claim to be from anywhere--offers the recipient the "opportunity" to share in a percentage of millions of dollars that the author is trying to transfer illegally out of the country.

Be advised that this is a scam and not a legitimate offer.
Don't fall for it!

After the initial contact, the scam can take several different forms, all leading to the same outcome: they steal your money. Often they ask for small sums at a time ($250 for a license, $400 for a bribe,$1000 for hospital bill), because they know that if they asked for a lot at one time, you would be more likely to refuse.

While the Nigerian scam has flourished with the increasing use of email, it has actually been circulating for many years through snail mail and fax.

The Secret Service asks if you have been victimized by such a scam to forward the appropriate written documentation to the address below.

To contact the U.S. Secret Service:
US Secret Service
Office of Communication and Media Relations

245 Murray Ln SW - BLDG T-5
Washington, DC 20223
Phone: (202) 406-5708

Or find your local field office here.

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