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Avoiding Email Scams

As a result of the very cheap cost of sending an email and the ability to reach a large amount of people easily, email scams are arguably the most common type of scams which are used today.  Unlike many other types of scam, email scams are not necessarily aimed at vulnerable people but, instead, look to catch out anyone who has momentarily dropped their guard.

All email scams have common characteristics which can be used to help identify if the email is a scam.  The following is a non-exhaustive list of the common characteristics found in typical email scams.

  • You have received the email out of the blue, or, you were not expecting an email from the organisation who they claim to be.
  • The senders email address is not the same as the organisation's website address who they are claiming to be.  Sometimes the senders address could be completely different.
  • The email is not addressed to your proper name but instead another non-specific greeting like "Dear customer" is used.  Alternatively the email may be addressed to the name used in your email address, for example, if your email address is "[email protected]', the email may be addressed "Dear bobsmith99".
  • The email stresses that you need to act quickly or you will miss out.
  • The email asks you to send them information such as your bank details, usernames and passwords.
  • The email seems unprofessional or contains spelling and grammar mistakes.
  • The email contains a link to a website.  The scammers set up fake websites which mirror a genuine organisations website.

Please note - You should be careful if a suspicious email does no contain any of the above characteristics as the list is non-exhaustive and new email scams appear regularly.

Some of the main types of email scams include Phishing, Money Transfer Scams, Stranded Traveller emails and Dating Scams.  Please note that each scam includes many of the common characteristics above.

What should you do if you receive a suspicious email that you believe may be scam?

  • If you are sure an email is a scam, do not even open it.  Instead, block the sender and then delete the email. Alternatively you can report the email to Action Fraud using their website by following the link: Reporting fraud and cyber crime | Action Fraud
  • If you open the email, do not click on any of the links or open any attachments in the email.  If you do follow a link to website, do not supply any information such as your bank details, usernames or passwords.
  • Never call any of the telephone numbers they ask you to call.
  • Do not reply to the email or contact the sender in any way.  Do not even do this to ask them to stop sending messages.

What should I do if I have given my bank details to a suspected scammer?

If you get caught out and give away your bank details to a suspected scammer, call the bank immediately and cancel any pending transactions you did not authorise.  Also cancel the bank card if you have given the card details to the scammer.  If you act fast you may be able to stop them taking money out of your account.

Where did the scammer get my email address from?

A common question asked to organisations such as trading standards is, how did the scammer get my email address?  To answer that, there are multiple ways a scammer will get hold of your email address.

Some of the common ways include the use of computer programs that scan the internet and detect email addresses from webpages, the use of underground cybercrime forums that pass on email addresses and the use of open air markets where lists of emails are sold by the millions.  It has been reported that if a scammer buys in bulk, they can pay around a penny for 1000 email addresses.