How To Spot an Email Phishing Scam

by ITRC

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Throughout 2012, email phishing scams have become more prevalent than ever. The speed, convenience, and most importantly anonymity of sending email makes this the most attractive medium for scammers to contact you. Phishing scams can take a variety of forms. Sometimes they are prompted by an action or communication you initiated (Job and Housing Scams), other times they may be completely out of the blue (as with Lottery Scams). Regardless of the form they take, if you know what to look for, you can avoid playing the victim and having your money or your identity stolen.

The first thing a concerned (or slightly paranoid) consumer should look for in an email is the place of origin. For example, money laundering scams often begin with some prince from Nigeria informing you that he needs you to help him retrieve his wealth by cashing a check or two for him. Do you KNOW a prince in Nigeria? If not, why would you think that some strange foreign prince would reach out to you, of all people, to handle his untold wealth? The reality is that this is an attempt to make you an accomplice to check fraud. And guess who the bank will hold responsible when the check comes up as bogus a week later (after you’ve withdrawn the funds and paid the “Prince” his portion)? Anytime you see a strange email originating from an unusual email address or from someone claiming to be living in another country, especially if you don’t know them, the warning sensor in your head should start beeping.

With Job seeking or product purchasing emails (like buying your car through Craigslist) be wary of giving out too much information too soon. An employer should only need your Social Security number once you’re in the final stages of hiring, and that is almost always after a face-to-face or at least a telephone conversation. When it comes to purchasing cars, toys, or any other product through an independent seller, only do so through a registered site like Ebay. If you’re using Craigslist, NEVER send money for a product you haven’t seen in person.

Lest we forget, there are also those infamous sweetheart scams….ahhh online love. Meeting a romantic interest on the internet is becoming ever more common. In 2012, it’s no longer a taboo way to meet a mate. While this increased connectivity is not without benefit, it’s not without danger either. When talking to a potential love interest NEVER send money for ANY reason if you haven’t actually met with and talked to them first. Be especially concerned if your would-be lover is living in another country. Never send money or financial information if you’re not 100% sure you know and trust the person receiving it.

The most important rule of thumb when trying to spot an email scam is simple. The old adage, “if it sounds too good to be true it probably is” has never found a more applicable use. If the job you’re applying for seems like too much easy money for too little effort, if that jet ski that you want is listed by the owner at half the price you saw it listed anywhere else; if that online flame is just a little too good looking and charming and already in love with you before your first date, tread cautiously.

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How To Spot an Email Phishing Scam was written by Matt Davis. Matt is a Victim Advisor at the Identity Theft Resource Center.

Identity Theft Resource Center® (ITRC) is a nonprofit, nationally respected organization dedicated exclusively to the understanding of identity theft and related issues. The ITRC provides victim and consumer support, public education, and advisory services to governmental agencies, legislators, law enforcement, and businesses.  Victims may contact the ITRC toll-free at 888-400-5530.