The 10 Most Common Email Scams and How to Avoid Them

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by PSECU, a Pennsylvania-based credit union.

Technology allows people to connect all over the globe — to complete formerly time-consuming tasks more quickly and access unprecedented amounts of information in a few simple mouse clicks. However, such convenience comes with a price — and not just the cost of new equipment or internet service fees.

online scamsScammers have plagued web visitors since the days when AOL alerted users that they had mail. And while many of these schemes have existed for years, they perpetuate because new people constantly fall victim. Here’s how to recognize many of the most common email scams to keep sensitive data and financial accounts safe.

1. We’re Hiring

Many an online job seeker has received at least one email where the subject line declares a position boasting a ridiculous salary and benefits package for completing simple tasks like stuffing envelopes or, more recently, processing orders for online retail giants such as Amazon. This scam preys on the desperation many looking for work feel as days and weeks pass without calls for interviews.

Because many people post their resumes to major job sites, these spammers have ripe fruit for the picking. After declaring a perfect candidate match, such scams require those bamboozled to send them money for processing background checks or other administrative details. Don’t bite. Legitimate job opportunities do not cost more than the price of an envelope and stamp to apply — if even that.

2. You’re Busted

What’s scarier than the thought of law enforcement breaking open the doors to the family home and hustling mom off to the hoosegow? Given tracking technology, any FBI agent or police officer could just as easily locate a physical address as an email address. Nevertheless, those frightened of winning a starring role in the next season of “Orange Is the New Black” often fork over their hard-earned cash, often via prepaid debit cards that are difficult to trace.

3. We Need to Verify Your Account

Spammers can spoof email addresses to make correspondence appear as if it were sent by a legitimate financial institution with whom the victim holds an account. The scam requires recipients to click on a link to verify their online banking details or evaluate charges for fraud. Once the user clicks the link and logs into their “bank,” the scammer has all the information they need to access the account and make withdrawals and transfers.

4. Survey Says

Most people like to feel that their opinion possesses value and merit, and scammers capitalize on this fact to bilk the unsuspecting with fraudulent email surveys. The email claims to be from a research organization conducting polls on anything from political issues to favorite products. What those suckered in by this ploy fail to realize is that once they divulge personally identifiable information to an unknown party, scammers can use that 411 to gain access to personal accounts.

5. The Tax Man Cometh

Despite repeated assurances from the IRS that they initiate contact via U.S. mail — not by phone and certainly not by email — people continue to fall prey. Many taxpayers linger under the assumption that the tax man will appear on their doorstep and lock them up for evasion like Al Capone reportedly was. In actuality, the IRS rarely pegs individuals with criminal charges unless they’ve demonstrated the specific intent to protest paying in an attempt to defraud the government.

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6. True Love Awaits

Since the invention of money, those looking for love have fallen prey to gold diggers, but the advent of the internet allows wannabe wooers to form relationships with people all over the globe. The problem? Anyone can make an online dating profile and win the trust of lonely hearts.

Because this type of scam involves a higher level of intimacy and trust, the individual correspondent may well be a real person. However, that little lady may really be a 60-year-old man. Once this kind of scammer hooks their prey, they can continue to bilk their “significant other” for funds over long periods of time before ghosting their victim when the other party grows suspicious.

7. The Check’s in the Mail

Some people have such an endless supply of cash that they randomly write out checks and mail them to lucky recipients who need do nothing to claim that fat wad of moola but send a portion of it back in the form of a processing fee. Such emails ask recipients to supply their full name and mailing address at in order to receive their funds. Of course, the check later bounces, leaving the victim not only minus the fees paid but with hefty overdraft charges to boot.

8. Just a Little Help

This type of email scam often surfaces in the wake of natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires. Some such emails appear to be from legitimate charities such as the American Red Cross. Others set up fictitious charity websites that look and feel authentic — but the money sent goes not to victims of catastrophes. Rather, it goes directly into the scammers’ pocket. Like relationship scams, email charity scams sometimes swindle hundreds or even thousands from repeated donations.

MOney Currency9. Make Money the Easy Way

Those down on their luck make the perfect targets for opportunistic scammers ready to prey on desperation. Similar to the old school chain letters of yesteryear, such scams promise an easy way to earn $10,000 or more per month for only a small, one-time investment fee. Of course, after the victim makes said investment, the opportunity either disappears or requires additional sums to unlock the true potential of this “foolproof” money-making scheme.

10. You’ve Won

A scam nearly as old as the Nigerian prince rook (which still snags the occasional victim), this type of swindle tells “lucky” recipients that they have won a lottery or sweepstakes they never remember entering. To claim their fortune, all the prey must do is cover processing and handling fees. In a sneaky twist, some require senders to wire funds via online money transfer sites or on prepaid debit cards “due to difficulties in converting the currency” — in reality, they simply wish to avoid detection.

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Fortunately, even the most legitimate-seeming scams require a willing victim. By educating themselves about many common email schemes, consumers can enjoy the benefits of living in a connected world without losing the shirt off their backs.

To learn more about common identity and financial scams, check out this infographic created by PSECU, a not-for-profit financial institution in PA.