How to spot an email scam - before you click on it

Sarah Coles
Don't Click Now! Spotting Email Spam
Don't Click Now! Spotting Email Spam
scam computer keys showing...
scam computer keys showing...

Email scams can be cruelly effective at disguising themselves as important messages from friends, families, and even our banks. However, if you fall for them, you're at risk of losing everything from your money to your identity. The AOL experts reveal common scams from the inheritance scam and the competition scam, to phishing scams claiming to be from someone you trust.

In the UK, Consumer Direct says three million people fall prey to these scams every year - losing an average of £850. The real figure is likely to be even higher than this, because many people feel too embarrassed to report that they have been duped by a scam.

As well as being aware of some of the most common scams, you can also protect yourself by getting to know the ten signs that an email, letter or phone call is actually a mass marketing scam.
1. If it comes out of the blue
The scammers work by sending messages to addresses at random in enormous numbers to people they don't know. If you are contacted by someone online for the first time with some kind of request or offer, there's a very good chance that it's one of thousands they are sending out every day.

2. If it includes an attachment
If you get an email you weren't expecting and you're invited to click on an attachment, you have no idea what you are downloading. There's a good chance it could include malware, which could do anything from spying on your passwords to attacking your computer.

3. If it comes from someone hard to trace
Sometimes letters and emails will come from a company you have never heard of. They may also give a mobile number as a contact or a PO Box number. Check out the company's details with Companies House, and look them up online to see if they are legitimate. If you have any concerns at all, err on the side of caution.

4. If it comes from someone you know but is unexpected
Scammers don't just contact you direct. Sometimes they will attack mail systems and send spam from your friends' addresses. In other cases, if you click on spam, it will automatically send more of it to everyone in your email contacts list. If you get an email from someone you know, with either a suspicious title, or an attachment, use a different method of communication to contact them and ask if they have just emailed you.

5. If it comes from someone you know - but asks for something unexpected
If an email supposedly comes from your bank or a company you deal with regularly, and asks for bank details, passwords or PINs, it's not from your bank - it's from a criminal. In another twist on this scam, sometimes criminals will provide a link for you to click and input details into a site that looks legitimate. Unfortunately it's a copycat site set up to harvest your details.

6. If you win something you never entered
The scammers will try to convince you there's some technique which allows you to have won money without entering - but this is impossible. It's just a scam designed to get you to send cash (which they may pretend is a fee to release a prize). This falls into a broader category of things that seem too good to be true - and are.

7. If you're asked to send money
This applies to all sorts of scams, where they convince you to send money in order to enable them to send money to you. In the competition scam it may be a fee, in the inheritance scam it may be tax or customs fees. It's actually none of these things - it's just how the scammers take your money.

8. If you are told to respond quickly
One technique the scammers use is to tell people they need to act fast or they will lose the opportunity. The idea is to make it harder for you to discuss things with friends and family before falling for the scam. If someone tells you that you only have a limited time, it's best to let the 'opportunity' pass and be certain it is legitimate.

9. If you are told to keep it a secret
This is another technique used to stop you asking for advice, and should always be avoided.

10. If there are grammatical or spelling mistakes
Legitimate organisations will hardy ever send an email with a typo, so you should always assume this is a scam. In some cases, the scammers are based overseas and they will have made a mistake. In other cases, a typo in a website name will enable them to set up a copycat website to harvest your data.

But another odd reason why some scammers include mistakes is because they want suspicious people to discover them and delete the email without responding. They only want the really vulnerable and gullible to get in touch, so they can steal far more easily from them

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