Scam e-mail is an overwhelmingly pervasive problem for internet-goers, and learning how to identify it can be a valuable skill. Although most scammers would try to have their messages seem convincingly legitimate, more often than not they typically still fall within a recognizable template or pattern.
In fact, since they differ from personal, business, social networking, or other forms of electronic mail, there are a few basic traits that can be anticipated in order to identity an email scam.
Requesting Overly Personal Information
An email scam relies on gullible people responding to what they believe is a genuine piece of valid information, and in their response, somehow offering the scammers an incentive for scamming in the first place. In other words, most scams are going to somehow try to wring money from their potential victims.
Any time an email requests any information at all relating to bank account information, it should be deleted. There is no legitimate, actual business on the planet that would need that information. Not online banking passwords, not account lines, not routing numbers, none of that should be given out freely online, nor should information like social security number or contact information be freely given within questioning intent.
Strange Characters or English Usage
Scam email has become such a norm in web culture that most email servers now provide automatic scam detection. This works by having the mailing program automatically search every incoming email for specific patterns that have previously proven to be indicative of scams. This may mean that all emails offering the phrase “male enhancement” get blocked, for instance.
However, in order to curtail these security measures, scammers may resort to slightly altering their messages just enough to keep their e-mails out of the spam box and into a victim’s inbox. For example, they may substitute characters to bypass the filter like saying “m@le enhancement,” or inserting spaces like “m ale enhance emtn.”
In addition, users should be very cautious when messages seem to be in poor translation, with Asian or African origins. A broken-English message, in conjunction with requesting personal information, is an immediate red flag that the e-mail should be deleted.
Finally, the simplest and most effective mark of a scam: If you did not request a service or product, and/or did not ever originally contact that particular e-mail address, then you should not open the e-mail. It really is that easy.
Is it from an e-mail address you recognize, like that of a family member? Then that is probably a legitimate e-mail. Is it a follow-up e-mail confirmation from a service you use, such as eBay or Amazon? Then that is probably a genuinely useful message. But if an e-mail is coming from a source you do not recognize for a subject you never originally requested or contacted anyone about, then consider: Is there really any reason to open it? The reason is no, absolutely not.
Overall, common sense rules out; as previous generations have extolled, “If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.”