Over the summer, I received a series of e-mails, from the
United Kingdom. According to one e-mail, a deceased relative
listed me as the primary beneficiary to his will, leaving me
with an inheritance of more than $1 million. I didn’t
even know I had family on the other side of the world. A few
later, I received another e-mail from the lawyer of a deceased
business man in Africa. Apparently, the business man was well-off
financially, with no friends or family. The lawyer asked me
to accept the funds in order to prevent the government from
claim to them and offered me a huge settlement if I agreed
to go along.
By summer’s end, I had five dead relatives in Europe
and I was offered four shady business deals. The catch to all
e-mails required me to provide personal information including
checking account and social security numbers. This is just
one example of how scammers try to rip you off and steal your
The best way to avoid e-mail scams is to immediately delete
any e-mail from people or organizations you are not affiliated
To update or verify your accounts, always go to the company’s
secure Web site.
One of the most popular e-mail scams took place in 2003 when
users of the popular online auction site eBay received e-mails
advising them to update their accounts or risk losing their
auctions. The e-mail looked legitimate, but it required the
to fill out an attached form, a practice that should have raised
a red flag as legitimate businesses will never ask for personal
information via e-mail. (This is usually stated in the Terms
of Service users are required to agree to when creating online
accounts.) Many eBay customers lost their accounts, money,
and identities to the thieves.
High tech scams aren’t just limited to e-mail. Internet
chat rooms are a great place for scam artists to practice their
Chat room scams are a favorite among con artists. The victim
meets the scammer online, they chat and become friends. After
a few weeks or months of communicating, a friendship has developed
and the scammer drops sad news about a sick relative who needs
money for an operation. The victim takes the person seriously
and sends money to the scammer. In some cases, the scammer
has even offered to visit the victim, only to state that they
afford the trip. Again, the victim feels sorry for their online
friend and sends money. The scammer never arrives and manages
to disappear from the chat room completely, perhaps by using
a new screen name to help search for the next victim.
To protect yourself from chat room scams, always be skeptical
of others in the room. Never give money to people if they ask,
no matter how well you think you know them or what type of
sad story they may tell you. It’s very easy for people
to create false personas online.
To report Internet and e-mail fraud, there are a number of
agencies to contact. Local law enforcement can help in small
for bigger problems, such as the loss of money or to stop
international scams, the incident can be reported to the
The Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov) also handles cases
of Internet fraud and scams.
Remember, the best way to avoid becoming a victim to e-mail
and Internet scammers is to use common sense.