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|» Anatomy of a Scam Email
Original Article by Dave Nerven ©FraudWatchers.Org 2005
Not sure if an inviting email you've just received is a scam? Read on...
If you are still not sure after reading this article, please feel free to post your queries in this forum. Please use this forum for any questions about emails or other forms of contact you are not sure about!
Following are the descriptions of several common scams which may be targeted against you. Please read them carefully in case you or someone you know is involved in such a scam.
General Anatomy of a Scam Email
Next time you get an email from some strange person or company offering you a fantastic prize or the opportunity to acquire huge sums of money, be very careful!
Check the following out, and read later below why the email is almost certainly a scam email if it meets ANY of the following criteria:
1. Is the email from a public free webmail service such as Yahoo, Hotmail, Walla, Sify, etc?
2. Is the email addressed to someone other than you, or addressed to nobody?
3. Is the Reply-To address different from the Sender (From) address?
4. Does the email contain a reference to another email address for you to reply to?
5. Does the email contain the details of another person or agent or "barrister" for you to contact?
Here are the reasons why the email is fraudulent.
1. Email comes from a free webmail service
No real business proposal or lottery winning announcement would be sent via a free webmail service. If the email came from a real company the address would be @companyname.com or something like that. No bank would use a free email address, like Yahoo or Hotmail. No lawyer would use such a free address either; this includes addresses at lawyer.com and justice.com. Please read: Mail.Com Free Email Addresses Nor would a lottery company or any person offering you "employment" or offering to help you claim inheritances, consignments or whatever. It is just NOT believable.
Some scammers now use a variation to attempt to fool you. For example, you might get an email from firstname.lastname@example.org . However, the REAL email address is from a free public Yahoo email account, email@example.com. Always check the LAST sender's address details from any suspicious email - that will be the true email service used by the scammers. You might have to retrieve the header to do this. Please read: How to Read Headers in Common Email Programs
2. Email is actually not addressed to you
If an email is not actually addressed to you or is addressed to "undisclosed-recipients", but still offers you a huge prize or an offer to acquire huge amounts of money, then how can this offer be true? The same e-mail has been sent to hundreds or thousands of people at the same time. Just ignore such emails immediately.
3. Reply-To address is different from the Sender's address
Most people would have a common address which they use for everything. Why would they need 2 email addresses? I have enough trouble keeping track of my single email address! If you do look carefully, you will see almost certainly that the Reply-To address is a free webmail service. Again, please do not deal with people that send their mails from a free webmail service. If they cannot even afford their own email service, then what makes you think they have any money or prizes to give you?
Actually, another reason for the use of another email address for replies is because most webmail services can detect spam coming out from an email account, and such accounts get closed rather quickly. These email accounts are known as "Spammer" accounts and the email addresses they direct you to are called the "Catcher" accounts. After you have responded to a Catcher account, it is very likely that you will be forwarded to another email address known as the "Handler" account. Some Catcher accounts are also Handlers, but generally that is the scenario. You may be forwarded also to a "Collector" account in the final stages of a scam where someone will then attempt to convince you to pay them some "fees". NEVER pay these fees. You will not see your money ever again.
4. Email contains a reference to another email address for replies
As for 3 above, why would a legitimate business or person need to do this? Again, the address for the reply would almost certainly be a free webmail service. Users of free webmail services just do not go around offering money or prizes, mainly because they themselves cannot even afford a proper email service. Just ignore such emails. They are blatant frauds.
5. Email contains reference to another person to contact
As for 3 and 4 above, just ignore such emails. Why would a "barrister" or "security company" or ANYONE be ready to receive an email from you, if you have NEVER dealt with them before? It just does not make sense!
How do you check if someone is using a free webmail service?
It is rather simple. From the end part of the Sender's address field, just cut and paste everything AFTER the '@' character. So if you see something like firstname.lastname@example.org, just use your web browser to access the website mail2world.com. You will soon see if it is a public webmail service. These free webmail services are easy to use and cost nothing, so the users will never be genuine persons or companies. The scammers can also create user names like email@example.com. Do not be fooled by impressive user names - always check the email service where the email came from. If it is a free webmail service, just ignore the email. If you cannot even find the website then it is certainly a fraudulent email. How can you believe an email from a website that does not even allow itself to be seen?
Another very simple method is to look for taglines. If you see taglines advertising something else, like Yahoo! or MSN, then it is a free webmail service that the scammer is using. Examples of taglines are:
Have you outgrown your e-mail account? Upgrade to MSN Hotmail Plus!
Find your next car at Yahoo! Canada Autos
Yahoo! FareChase - Search multiple travel sites in one click.
Try the New Netscape Mail Today!
Virtually Spam-Free | More Storage | Import Your Contact List
Express yourself instantly with MSN Messenger! Download today it's FREE!
Scammers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and have published their own fake websites from which they send their emails. Please read: Identifying Obvious Scammers and Their Websites Or, increasingly, they will have links to real websites for you to refer to, such as the BBC news service or websites of legitimate banks or businesses. However, invariably, the Reply-To addresses would be a free webmail address, so ignore the links and just check for the scammer's reply addresses and you will see that they are scam emails.
Finally, don't be fooled by strangers offering you the opportunity to acquire vast amounts of money! Why would ANY stranger offer this to you? They have families, they have friends, and these friends must know friends or relatives in other countries. So if the scammer claims to need someone who is not in their country, then it cannot possibly be true, especially if they are people who are claiming to deal with such sums of money. Also, always ask: (i) HOW and (ii) WHY did these people get in touch with you? The answers are (i) they got your name from some email list and (ii) they want to steal your money. They have never known you, and they never want to know you or meet you or help you. They just want to steal your money. Remember that.
There are many flavors of 419 scams but they all have ONE thing in common: they will want to make you pay money in advance in return for some fictitious consignment or inheritance or millions of dollars which do not exist. Typically, the scammers will want to make you pay for processing fees, drug certificates, legal fees, handling charges, bank charges, etc, all of which do not exist because these fees have all been invented by the scammer. Another thing in common is that ALL these scammers will be using FREE webmail services to communicate with you and they will also use untraceable pay-as-you-go mobile phones. Think about it - if these people have access to millions of dollars, why do they have to do their business from cheap internet cafes? Details of some common and active scams can be read on these links:
Did You "Win" a Lottery You Never Entered?
This is one of the most common scam formats at the moment. There are many variations of this scam. Sometimes, you will be informed that you have won millions, other times it is less money. Sometimes, you have won a luxury car or a house in Florida, or maybe even a holiday. The "prizes" you can win are endless. But they will ALL have two things in common - (i) the prizes do not exist and (ii) you have never entered the lottery over the internet. If you do pursue the prize, you will inevitably be asked for processing fees, handling charges, government taxes, etc.
The latest variation is that the scammers actually pretend to PAY for the cost of the fees or charges. They will claim that some "state agency" will cover the costs involved in claiming your prize via a cheque or bankers draft. The idea is to make the victim cash the cheques or drafts and send the money to the scammers. If one actually sat down and thought about it, this does not make sense anyway - if the fees are covered by someone else, why would it be necessary to send you first the money and then make you send it back?
More on the lottery scams plus an example can be seen on the following links. If you have received a "lottery win" in your email, please do check out these links:
Did You Get a "Work Offer" via Email?
This article is for those of you wondering about emails offering you the chance to become a "representative" or "payment collector" or "payment agent" of companies that you have never applied to and often never even heard of. Many of these companies have Chinese names but almost ALL these emails start out from Nigeria or Europe. Sometimes, they claim to be from known companies like Ricoh, but if you check the email domain, you will see that they are lying.
Friendship and Love Scams
Got a Wonderful Employment Offer via Email? OK, You Need to Read This...
There are a lot of us Europeans out of work, and many, many people out there who can do with a second income. This is totally natural wish of anyone who wants to provide better for his or her family, pay for a holiday or fix the house up or whatever. Unfortunately, people like us are being targeted by a bunch of scammers who specialise in offering part-time "jobs" which usually involve clearing "payments" from "clients" in return for 10% of the sum as "commission".
This is a very nasty economic crime which targets the most vulnerable people in society. There is no payment. There is no commission. All the payments received will be fake cheques or drafts or fake payments "flashed" through your bank accounts. You will end up losing a lot of money and can also face jail! Here is how the scams work:
1. An offer will arrive in your email box offering you the opportunity to collect payments on behalf of some unknown company (usually Chinese), in return of 10% of the amount collection as your "commission" or "salary".
2. The scammers will then request personal details plus a copy of your identity papers. Often, they will ask for your bank details. They may also offer a fake contract for you to sign.
3. If you continue with the "job application", some scammers may at this stage ask you for a small "processing fee". This is to establish your "credibility" and whether they can trust you to do the real "work". If you do pay this fee, then the scammers will know that you have funds and are able to be fooled into the main scam.
4. Next comes the payments. They usually come in 3 forms:
a. Cheques - these are always fake or stolen cheques.
b. Bank or Postal Drafts - these are always fake or stolen drafts
c. "Electronic" payments - this means that the scammer has gone to a bank branch on your behalf and credited your account with a fake cheque or draft. This is an illegal practice called "flashing".
5. The scam works because in many countries, the banks will honour the fake cheques/drafts/payments and credit your account with the money, in advance of the actual clearance of the funds. Later, when the banks find out that the funds do not exist, then they will come back and debit the money from YOUR account. YOU will end up not only losing money but can also face charges of bank fraud or moneylaundering!
6. Once the "payments" have arrived in your bank account, the scammers will then attempt to hurry you for the payments of "their money". They may threaten you, they may phone you constantly, they may email you several times a day. Basically, they will do everything they can to make you pay them BEFORE the bank finds out that the funds do not exist.
Please do not fall for this scam. There is NO money - all the payments are fraudulent. Even if your bank account gets credited with a payment, the bank will eventually want all the money back in full AND investigate YOU for fraud. You will only LOSE MONEY if you fall for such an "employment" scam, and probably face a jail sentence as well. This is a horrible crime which causes untold pain and misery to victims.
Please have a look also at the articles within the forums on this website, and do not ever do any business with people or companies that want to pay you a "salary" or "commission" in return for the use of your bank account. This is technically money laundering and is a felony in most countries. Several victims who have fallen for this scam have been jailed for many years because the courts did not believe that they have no knowledge of the scam. Do not expect an easy "salary" just because you happen to own a bank account!
I write this article with a heavy heart. Just recently, we had a victim of such a "love scam" commit suicide. He was just 30-odd years old, he was deaf and he was a lonely man. He fell for a love scam, despite all our warnings, and the warnings and advice of his family and friends. He believed he was corresponding with a lovely girl who needed his help and advice. Instead, he was emailing a Nigerian male criminal who made the victim lose his home, run up massive debts and eventually forced him back to live with his mother. That is where he hanged himself.
Strangers Seeking Your Friendship, or Looking for Romance? Read on...
It has often been said that it is a tough world we live in, and with good reason. For many people, it is also a lonely one. When one gets home, it is often after a hard day at work and it is just easier to read and send emails or pop into an Internet chat room from a home computer. I have done this, and almost everyone I know has done this. It is a way of relieving stress, share a few jokes or thoughts, and maybe meet some new friends.
Well, this innocent activity can be dangerous because there are many scammers out there looking for someone just like you. Not just YOU specifically, but anyone who signs up for public chatrooms or who leaves their email addresses in friendship sites (or any other internet site, for that matter).
Typically, if you are in a chat room, and a scammer finds you, they will attempt to get you to give them your email address sooner or later. Often they will get your email address by offering their email address first, and then they will know your email address when you write to them.
In a love scam, things always start out rosy and sweet. You will see nice pictures of a lovely person. You will be asked to send your picture back in return. This is the "phishing" stage when they will be fishing for details about you, and this may be done via chats or emails. They want to know whether you live alone, how much you earn, what assets you have, how religious you are, etc. Once your profile has been established as a likely victim, several things will happen:
1. Your "friend" now wants to visit you but cannot afford the airplane ticket
2. Your "friend" has a sick relative and cannot afford the hospital treatment
3. Your "friend" has a family member in serious debt who has been threatened with bankruptcy or gangsters
4. Your "friend" now has a complicated illness (which he/she has not told you about before in case it "turned you off") and cannot afford the treatment
5. Your "friend" wants some "proof" of how you feel and wants some presents
6. Your "friend" needs to buy some "school books" and cannot afford them.
There are many, MANY variations in the ways your "friend" will ask for money from you, depending on your profile. Often, they will also ask for a credit card number from you which they can use to make the purchases. If you do provide them with your card information, your card will be maxed out in days. And then they will ask for another card.
And this will go on and on until the victim has no money left. They will NOT stop though. Within a short period of time, you will get emails from someone who will tell you one or more of the following:
1. A strange person has information about your "friend" and is willing to sell it for some money
2. An investigator has information that you have been scammed and will help you recover your money for some "investigation fees"
3. A stranger will inform you that your "friend" has been kidnapped and will be murdered unless you pay them money.
This is a last-ditch attempt to force you to borrow even more money to either recover your original losses or to save your "friend".
If this fails, or if you had earlier already stopped giving money to the scammer, they will still NOT stop, because soon you will have other people writing you again wanting you to be their "friend".
Not everything on the Internet is as gloomy as the picture I painted above. Sometimes, things really do work out! People do find true love on the Net. However, at the moment, I am seeing it through the eyes of a mother of a dead son, a young man who has done nothing to harm anyone, and whose only fault was to fall for a love scam.
A very good resource to help and assist with Romance or Love Scams is:
Internet Love Scams
Online Auction Scams
I confess that I've been scammed by a scammer in eBay. It was a long time ago, it was not a lot of money but I did not get a memory card that I paid for with a cheque, despite many correspondences with the "seller". In the end, I reported him and he has now been banned from eBay.
But now, there is a new generation of much more dangerous
eBay scammers out there, and you had better be careful. eBay is not doing much about them because they do not want any negative publicity about their business. So this means that the scammers are free to try each and every day to sell you fake stuff or goods that they have not got or ever intend to send to you. Be very careful when bidding on anything that sounds too cheap, even if the seller has a perfect feedback record. And NEVER pay via Western Union or Moneygram. You will NOT see your goods or your money back.
eBay - An opportunity for a bargain or to have your money stolen?
Next time you have got some time free, have a look at eBay. Search for high value goods such as laptops or drum kits or fancy plasma screeens. See a good deal? Seller's ratings look great? Auction expires soon? Well, be careful, especially if the seller quotes his email address in the auction and asks you to contact him directly. By all means, make a bid but if the seller suddenly changes his mind about the mode of payment and asks to be paid via Western Union or Moneygram, then just report him. No legitimate seller would change their minds and want payment via such services. Asking to be paid via Western Union or Moneygram is simply illegal under the standard eBay terms and conditions.
To report such a seller, go to the eBay Safety Center (usually it's a link near the bottom of the home page), put in your details and let eBay check out the seller for you. Generally, such eBay scammers tend to come from East European countries, although there are a few in every country now.
So what about the great feedback that the seller has? Well, many scammers have access to phished (or stolen) details of legitimate eBay members and they are just using these details to post the auction. The scammers don't even PAY to list the auction as the hijacked members end up footing the bill. If you are in doubt and a bargain looks too good to be true, then look for the PayPal Protection or Payment Protection badges under the seller's name. If these badges are there, then your purchase is covered up to the value specified in the badges but ONLY if you use PayPal to make the payment.
So the same rule applies for eBay as for other things in life - if something is too good to be true, then it certainly is TOO good to be true.
The main thing to remember is NEVER pay for any auction item via Western Union or Moneygram. You will NOT receive the goods you "bought" and you will NOT get your money back. This is a fact of life when you participate in online auctions.
See Western Union and MoneyGram Indicate Fraud for more information
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