Worst email scams of 2012

fraudulent credit cardsAP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz

Identity fraud and theft continues to be a big issue in the UK. The National Fraud Authority estimated that it cost the UK at least £1.2 billion in 2011. Scam and fraudulent emails are one of the major causes of this figure.

Here are some of the worst ones we encountered this year.


Paypal child pornography

This scam made my heart sink when I read it. Sick scammers have been sending out fake emails claiming you have been involved in a PayPal transaction involving child pornography.

The idea is to panic you into going through to a fake website and reveal your PayPal and credit card details.

Shopping vouchers and gift cards

There have been many variants of the free shopping voucher and gift card scam. Some are aimed at fooling people who have a particular supermarket credit card, such as Tesco's.

Others are even more speculative and are just sent out in the hope that they will deceive people who regularly shop at one of the big supermarkets. For example, fraudsters sent out emails pretending to come from Asda Direct, offering a free gift card as a 'reward' in return for customers' loyalty.

In whatever guise, sadly these emails seem to be growing in number.

Tax refunds

This is another oldie that keeps on getting another turn. The email promises a tax refund and usually comes complete with an authentic-looking HMRC logo. But don't be fooled: HMRC doesn't contact anybody by email.

The BA e-ticket

According to security firm Sophos, fraudsters have cloned a genuine British Airways e-ticket email and sent it out. If you've recently booked a flight with the airline or you're just curious and you click through, you can expect your computer to be infected with malware.

The EuroMillions winners' gift

I was one of the recipients of an email claiming to be from Gillian and Adrian Bayford, who you might remember won £148 million on EuroMillions in August. At the time they promised to share their good fortune with "people that need help, people that have helped us and supported us".

Predictably, fraudsters have used this good intention to send out scam emails promising recipients that they have been 'gifted' £990,000 following a lottery. It contains a link to a Sky News story about the couple's win in an attempt to make it look more genuine. But the shonky spelling and punctuation throughout the email, added to its general implausibility, marks it as a scam.

The census

There was a census in 2011 and, guess what, scammers seized the opportunity to send out emails. These supposedly come from National Statistician Jil Matheson and ask for further information via a link to a website, with the threat of a fine if the recipient doesn't oblige. Go to the website and it will download all sorts of nasty surprises onto your computer.
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