As long as there has been any kind of correspondence – letters, emails, etc., – there have been scams.

Email scams are growing more sophisticated; instead of the typical ‘Nigerian’ schemes that claim the recipient is the sole beneficiary of a fortune, the emails are disguised to appear as though they come from a legitimate source.
There are many forms of email scams. There are a few ways to tell if the email is a scam, before you click on a link or open any attachments:

1) Email scams are always unsolicited. In other words, they arrive in your inbox without you asking for information or notification. Legitimate establishments such as banks, car dealerships, governmental institutions, credit card companies and the like do not send notifications through email. Not everyone has access to email, and email is notoriously unreliable for communications.

Notices by such esteemed and legitimate establishments are conducted through telephone alerts and through physical mail. Email notices proclaiming “Important news from First Bank” or “Credit Alert”, suggesting that your account has been compromised are definite signs of a scam. Delete them immediately.

2) Emails comprising of a generic title and a single link (or a ‘hello’ and a link) should be immediately suspected. Even if they come from an email address that is familiar (a family member, or a friend’s email address), it may be an address that has been compromised or is spoofed by a scammer. Instead of clicking on any link, contact the sender by a separate email (don’t use the “reply to” option in the email) and see if they sent you an email. You may be helping them by letting them know someone has compromised their email address!

3) Cunning scammers will make it seem as though a bank has sent you an urgent email; they may even go as far as to label it “Your account” in an effort to entice you to open the email. The body of the message will contain a link “for you to verify your account information.” If you click on it, it will take you to a site that appears to be a legitimate banking site, but it is set up solely to steal your identity. Redirecting you to a phony site from an email is called ‘phishing’; some of the fake sites are practically indistinguishable from a real site.

4) Scammers are not above using fear tactics to make you respond to an email. The body of the email may contain threats (direct or indirect) to create a sense of panic and urgency in you.

There are many more types of scams, but the more common tactics are listed above. So how do you avoid falling prey? The best way is through observation and a little education. Now that you know legitimate institutions will not contact you through email, you may immediately delete any emails that are trying to appear as though they have come from the IRS, a bank or credit union, or a generic-but-ominous-sounding ‘creditor.’ Should you happen to open an email and you are uncertain of its legitimacy, there are a few things you can do to help you determine if it’s a scam or the real thing:

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A) Many scammers are from overseas. American English is not their native tongue, and there will be misspellings or grammatical errors throughout the message. If the message sounds strange, delete it. (Those grammar lessons in school can pay off!)

B) Many scammers rely on a person’s desperation or greed, hoping they will ‘play along’ with the scheme in order to gain money or other rewards. A very common ploy is the Nigerian scheme, in which a very, very rich person is said to have named the email recipient in their will, leaving them an obscene amount of money. THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN IN REAL LIFE. It works because of the temptation of enrichment, regardless of the implausibility of the situation. Be skeptical of any email that promises money or windfalls. Unless the person sending the email is personally known to you, delete the email.

By the same token, if you do not have an account at First Bank (or whatever subject line they give their email,) there is no need for you to bother opening the message.

C) Look at the return email address. Many clumsy scammers will send an email with the title of “Chase Bank- Urgent Account verification needed” in the hopes that you will click on their link and divulge your personal information. The return address is not from Chase bank; instead, it will read something like chase@wryxin.ru or some other odd-looking address. Even some of the ‘better’ scammers will have something in their return email addresses that may appear to be from Chase bank, but it is not quite right. It will be “accounts@ chasebank.net” or something similar. Listen to your gut hunch, and if it doesn’t strike you as legitimate, don’t click on it. Government sites do not have email addresses that end in “.biz” or “.com” or “.net.”

D) When all else fails, and you are unsure, contact the emailer. Do this by closing out the email entirely, and if the message was from your bank (for example), open up their website on your browser or call their telephone number from a bill. Some banks will request that you forward the scammer email to their fraud department.

It is easy to fall into the habit of clicking and believing everything you see on the computer, and even easier to lose perspective with email.

By taking a step back from questionable emails and verifying the information in other ways, you can save yourself a great deal of time and inconvenience. Think about it: the worst that can happen if you delete a legitimate email is that they will have to send it to you again.