How to recognize a scam email

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Gentle Giant

Giant Admin for a Day
Staff member
Did you receive an unusual email? Did something strike you as being strange about the email? Well, there are some questions you can ask to answer your suspicions, and the questions are found below.

If you answer “yes” to one of these questions, you might have a scam email.
If you answer “yes” to two of these questions, you probably have a scam email.
If you answer “yes” to three or more of these questions, you DO have a scam email. And just think, you figured it out yourself (maybe with a little help).


1. Did you receive an email that just seems strange or unusual?
Of course you did. That's why you're here. Your instincts tell you, "something is wrong with this email". Your instincts are right. Listen to them.

Should I respond to this email?
No.
There are two good reasons for not responding at all. Deleting the email is the best thing to do with it.

1. If you do answer, you are telling the scammer that the email address (yours) is active. That isn't something you want to do because...

2. if you answer, you are asking to be put on the scammer's mailing lists. Scammers sell or trade lists of email addresses with each other, and as soon as you reply, you're going to get more scam mails. You won't get off their list very easily. Even if the scammer doesn't give or sell your email address to other scammers, the scammer probably has other "modalities", or characters, who will start emailing you with a variety of other email scams.

In short, delete it. Don't even bother tellling them that you know they are a scammer. Resist the temptation.

2. Did you receive an email from someone you don't know?
You get spam mail every day. No one seems to be able to avoid it. Getting an email from someone you don't know isn't that unusual. If you delete every such mail, you aren't going to have to worry about a scam.

The thing that makes it a scam is when the email comes from a foreign government official, a bank auditor, a widow, an orphan or so on. They will tell you that they "found" your email while searching on the net. Whatever business they have, they will approach you because they trust you, a complete stranger, to help them move around millions of dollars.

If it sounds to good to be true, it is too good to be true.

Delete and and don't respond to it.

3. Does the email address you merely as “Dear Friend”, “Dear sir/Ma’am”, or “Greetings”?
If so, why? It's pretty simple. It's the theory of mass mailing. If a scammer sends out 1,000 emails, he doesn't have time to personalize every message, Dear John, Dear Mary, etc. Remember, he's mailing 1,000 people or more, so it has to be a very generic greeting like this. If you responded, then he would know your name and the second email would address you by name. The internet allows him to mass mail, just like spammers do. And all a scammer needs is one hit from a victim who will send money to make his month a good one, financially.

If I get one of these, is it a scam?
Probably. Best bet? Hit "delete".

4. Did You Get An Email That Is Typed In All Capital Letters?
YES! WHY IS THAT?

Well, no one knows for sure. Only a scammer could tell us. The best theory I've seen is that the scammer thinks that typing in caps is somehow more impressive, more serious, etc. Maybe he thinks you will be impressed. However, a government official, a banker, a lawyer, etc, would never type in all caps. That's because anyone in business or government would know some basic "netiquette" (internet ettiquette) and would know that typing in caps is considered to be SHOUTING at people.

If you get an email in all caps, either the scammer has his cap lock stuck or he just isn't real bright. If it's in caps, it's a scam. Best bet? Hit "Delete".

5. Did you get an email that is written in really bad English?

That is a sure sign of a scam. There is no excuse for poor English by an educated professional such as a lawyer, banker, or government official. Poor English might be an excuse for someone whose first language is not English or someone with a low educational level. An occasional typo or grammar mistake is one thing. We all make them. But a whole letter full of bad grammar?

And that's one thing to keep in mind with scammers: some of them might be 14-year-old kids sitting around an internet cafe sending out scam emails for their old boss, or "oga" as he is called. They may not have the educational background to do this.

Scammers also copy scam formats from each other, and if there's bad English in one, it just gets passed down the line.

Bad English? Delete it. It's a scam.

6. Is the sender's name odd or unusual?
Is the name something like "Williams David" or "David John"? If yes, why is that? Well, there are a couple of possible answers. One is that the scammers, living in Africa, may not be really familiar with an English speaking culture such as in the UK or North America. They might not recognize the name as unusual.

It might also be that the scammer has a stolen passport with a name like "David Williams" and he simply switches the names around and has a new scamming "modality" or character. Scammers may also use Williams David for 6 months, and then start scamming with the name David Williams. Likewise for David John or John David.

Sometimes the scammers try to develop a name from a really different culture, such as Japanese or Spanish. Fortunately, we have lots of Japanese experts here and they will all tell you that not one single scam letter from a "Japanese" in this forum is a real Japanese name. The scammer might try a name like "Domingo Jose" trying to convince you they are Spanish, not knowing that both Domingo and Jose are first names.

If the email has an unusual name, it's probably a scam mail. Best thing to do? Delete it.

7. Did you receive an email that uses a free email server like “Yahoo” or “Hotmail”?
Scammers like free email servers, just like you might. However, a legitimate business company, a bank, or a government agency will never use free email servers, no matter what. That is because a legitimate company has a registered "domain", such as antifraudintl.org. A real business doman will usually have ".co" as part of the name. An organization, such as AFI, uses ".org". A government agency will often have something like ".gov" followed by the 2 letter national code such as ".us" or ".uk", etc. Even the real Central Bank of Nigeria would have a real domain and would never use yahoo. Likewise, a lottery claims agent will not use free email servers.

If it looks like business and it has a free email server, it's a scam. Best bet? Delete it.

8. Does the email ask you to respond to a different email address, maybe from another fr
Why? Well some scammers will have you respond directly to the same email account they emailed you from. Others have one account (A) which they use strictly for sending out scam emails, kind of like spamming. They want you to reply to a different account (B), because that's the one they will read for the particular scam they are sending to you. Sometimes the name on A and B will be the same. Sometimes, especially with a lottery scam, the names will not be the same. But in reality, A and B are almost always the same person. In fact, no matter how many people get involved in a particular scam format, they are almost always the same person.

So it asks you to respond to a different email. Is it a scam? Most likely. Best thing to do? Delete it.

9. Did you receive an email with someone else’s name on it?
Well, this happens sometimes. It's just generally called ASEM for Accidentally Sent E-Mail or Accidentally Sent Email Message. People do accidentally send an email to the wrong person. Scammers do it too. You may have gotten an email intended for some other victim. If it looks strange and you don't understand anything it's talking about, the best thing is, yes, you guessed, delete it. Don't respond to it and ask what it's about.

10. Did you receive the same email from 2 different email addresses?
If you did, you can bet it's a scam. It might be one scammer sending out the same scam email from 2 different accounts. It could be 2 different scammers sending out the same email at the same time, but it's unlikely. Best bet? Delete them both.

11. Did you receive the same email several times on different days?
Quite possibly you did. Think about it: a scammer sends out hundreds or thousands of emails, well, it gets kind of hard to remember who he sent them to. The scammer rule seems to be, "when in doubt, send it again". And again. And again, if necessary. They're probably all from the same person anyway.

Best bet? Delete ALL of them and resist the temptation to respond to them to tell them to quit sending you the same email.

12. Does the email contain an address that seems unusual or maybe even fake?
Well, maybe your email has an address. Is it real? Maybe, maybe not.

Sometimes scammers will simply make up an address which they think looks like a real, local address for the place they use for their scam. But to someone from North America, 123 Main Street would be an obvious fake address. But what about some of those foreign addresses? Well they may simply be made up.

Other times, scammers will actually use the internet and find an address that is real, but is not for the business they are using for the scam. Other times they will steal the name of a real company AND their real address (and even their webpage) to include in the email.

If in doubt, ask us about it. Or try the handy tool, http://www.google.com/. Google is your friend. This will at least tell you if the address is possibly real. It may also lead you to a webpage that shows you that the address is fake or is regularly used by scammers. If you find this to be true, you know what to do, delete that email!.

13. Did you get an email that says you just won a lottery you didn't buy a ticket for?
This one is pretty simple and basic. If you didn't buy a ticket, you can't win.

Lotteries have money to give away because people buy tickets. That money is used to pay the actual lottery winners. You can't win an online lottery because you probably never heard of the lottery and therefore you never bought a ticket. And believe it or not, rich people or rich companies do not run lotteries just to give away their money.

Additionally, in some countries, it is actually illegal for you to win money from a lottery in a different country.

Got a lottery email? It's a fake. It is NEVER real. Just hit "Delete".

14. Did you get an email that asks you for a lot of personal information?
Things like, your name, your address, your phone number, your fax number, your age, your gender, your workplace, your bank account and information, etc? Think about this. If someone walked up to you on the street and started asking you for that kind of information, would you give it to them? Hopefully not. On the internet, even more so.

Scammers would like to have this kind of information about you. They can steal your identity. They can do things in your name. They could scam using your name. They could even set up a fake credit card in your name. That's why identity theft on the internet is such a major issue.

If you are asked for such information, don't provide it. Don't give fake information to the scammer. Don't even answer the scammer, just delete that email. It's a scam.

15. Did you get an email that doesn't even mention the subject of money?
It does sometimes happen that a scammer will send out an email that simply says something like "contact me". A very short and strange message.

So is it a scam? Maybe. The best thing to do with it is to assume that it is a scam, especially if it's from someone you don't know. And just hit "delete".

16. Did someone just offer you an extremely high price for something?
If you sell things on the internet (E-Bay, etc), did someone just offer you an extremely high price for something? Well, it is possible that the person does really want to buy your item and is willing to pay a premium price for it. Or maybe they are just clueless as to its actual value.

On the other hand, if you got an email from a scammer, here's what they will do. They will offer to pay the high price with a negotiable instrument, probably a money order they have. The money order will be for a large amount. They will send you the money order, you can deduct the price of your item, and then they will want you to send them the balance by Western Union or Moneygram. They will not make serious arrangements for you to send them the item, and....you guessed it, that money order is going to be fake. YOU will be stuck with a fake money order, you will lose your money, and you will still not have sold your item.

If you get an email like this, caution is advised. It might be a legitimate offer to purchase. But it may also be a scam, especially if they mention some kind of story, as above. If they do, delete it. It's not a real offer, and it's a fake check scam. Scammers love to steal money this way.

17. Did someone just offer you a ridiculously low price for something?
If you sell things on the internet (E-bay) and if the answer is yes, it might be for much of the same reasons as above^^^. It is possible that the person does really want to buy your item but is just clueless as to its actual value.

On the other hand, if you got an email from a scammer, they may be trying to enter into "negotiations", which will eventually end with them offering you a check for more than the agreed upon sales price. They will send you a negotiable instrument (like a money order) for a large amount. They will send you the money order, you can deduct the price of your item, and then they will want you to send them the balance by Western Union or Moneygram. They will not make serious arrangements for you to send them the item, and yes, that money order is going to be fake. You will be stuck with a fake money order, you will lose your money, and you will still not have sold your item.

If you get an email like this, caution is advised. It might be a legitimate offer to purchase. But it may also be a scam, especially if they mention some kind of story, as above. If they do, delete it. It's not a real offer, and it's a fake check scam. Scammers love to steal money this way.

18. Did you receive an email that offers you a great deal of money for only a little work?
The old adage still holds here: if it looks too good to be true, it is too good to be true. In most cases like this, the scammer is going to ask you to act as a representative for him/her or for a company, and collect payments from foreign customers. Those checks you get would be fake and you will be stuck with the loss. You don't even want to get near one of those scams. It's not a legitimate offer.

Delete it and move on with life.

19. Did you receive an email from West Africa?
Well it is 99.9% likely it's a scam. Although Nigeria is famous for the "advance fee fraud" (or 419 Scam), the rot has spread elsewhere. There are also scammers in Ghana, Togo, Benin, etc. Probably every country in West Africa has them.

And it isn't just West Africa. There are scammers in Kenya and many in South Africa.

An email from Africa? Best bet is to just delete it. It isn't from the widow or child of a former African dictator, cabinet minister, gold mine owner, or cocoa plantation owner.

20. Did you receive an email from Europe or North America?
Scammers are unfortunately everywhere. In particular, many of them have migrated and formed communities elsewhere. And, as you can guess, there are a few rotten apples among the immigrants as well. In Europe, London, Amsterdam, and Madrid are favorite places for them to scam from.

In North America, Toronto, Houston, Texas, and Atlanta, Georgia have also become sites of large communities and some scammers as well.

In Europe there are also numerous Romance scammers, particularly in Russia and Eastern Europe (sometimes referred to as "Vlads"). These scammers are often men posing as women trying to find romance with foreigners.

If you get an email from one of these locations, you can almost bet it is a scam. Best thing to do? Hit "delete".

21. Did you receive an email from a widow, an orphan, a refugee, etc?
You can bet that's a scam. The forms are pretty basic. Cancer victims will write you and tell you they have 90 days to live. They have a form of cancer that has "defiled" all forms of treatment. They usually have no friends or family, and they want to leave their money to charity, and they want you to make that dream possible for them. Sorry, but they are scammers, not cancer victims. They are never cancer victims.

Is the email from a poor widow or orphan, maybe living in a refugee camp? Did their husband/father leave millions of dollars in a security company which the widow/orphan needs your help to get? Was he the former president of an African country? Was he a former government minister in an African country? Was he a former gold mine owner, cocoa plantation owner, or rich businessman? Well, sorry, but the person sending you the email is not a widow or orphan. It's just a scammer. It's always a scammer.

Scammers love to play on your sympathies. Think how you would feel about a real cancer victim or widow or orphan. They want you to feel like that for them. But they are just scammers and they deserve none of your sympathy. Disdain, loathing: that they deserve.

Got one of those emails? Hit "delete".

22. Did you receive an email that might involve you in some kind of illegal activity?
You may get one of these. One type of scam involves moving large sums of money that belong to a former dictator/government official. Aside from the ethical question, you have to ask yourself, doesn't this "money" actually belong inside of country "x"? And the answer would be yes. If there actually was such money, it would have been stolen from the citizens of "x" and it belongs to them. It should be invested in their country. No matter what the barrister, lawyer, or banker tells you, you cannot ever get any of that money. You can give lots of your money to the barrister, lawyer, or banker.

If the email is asking you to basically launder money through a bank (yours), you should know that money laundering is illegal in virtually every country, and banking officials come down hard on people who do that. Well, in many countries they do. There isn't really any money so you aren't going to be guilty of money laundering, but you can imagine your problems if the story was true.

If what the barrister, lawyer, or banker says looks funny, it is. You know what to do: delete that email.

23. Did you receive an email from someone asking to you to be next of kin?
This is a common scam format. A banker will suddenly find an inactive account with millions of dollars that belongs to someone who died, usually in a plane crash. If they are in Nigeria, they probably died on an accident on the Sagamu Express Road, apparently the deadliest road in Nigeria. A "barrister" or "lawyer" might also approach you with the same story. In any case, they will tell you they they can't get the money out of the account and out of the country (because it is called stealing and is illegal), but that you can help them do it.

You can't. It's that simple. You can never be the next of kin for someone you are not related to. If someone dies, the money goes to their estate. A second question you might ask is, why would someone invest money in a bank in Nigeria when there are better and safer investment methods than a certificate of deposit in an African bank with higher returns? People wouldn't.

No matter how many "documents" the scammer produces (see "Documents" in the "Little (Photo)Shop of Horror" section), no matter how many times they assure that everything is entirely legal and risk-free, it isn't. None of it is real.

Got one of those emails? Just hit "delete".

24. Did you receive an email that asks you to contact someone else?
No matter who is asking, it is a scam. No matter who they tell you to contact, it is a scam. Cancer victims ask you to contact a lawyer or friend. A business person will ask you to contact his or her "secretary" about getting funds moved from point A to point B. It doesn't matter, the story is a scam.

Got one of those emails? Just hit "delete".

25. Did you receive an email that asks you to keep the entire business secret?
If you did, then you can bet it's a scam. Scammers don't want you to talk to anyone about their "deal". It always has to be hush-hush. After all, if you talked to someone about it, like a spouse, a family member, a friend, that person might tell you it isn't real. A scammer wouldn't like that. Scammers thrive on secrecy.

If you had just won millions of dollars in a lottery, wouldn't you tell everyone you know? Of course you would. And the media would be all around your house trying to make you famous. No secrecy about it.

That's why we are here. We are trying to expose them publicly. As Miyuki says, "Knowledge and information are the scammer's worst enemies; silence is the scammer's best friend". We don't intend to be silent. Neither should you.

Got one of those emails? The best thing to do is to delete it. If in doubt, get a second opinion. Don't be afraid to violate the scammer's secrecy or privacy. They aren't afraid to violate yours, after all.

26. Did you receive en email that asks you to respond Urgently because of time problems?
It is remotely possible that it could be real, but it is very unlikely to be true. Scammers always push you to do things quickly because...they want your money fast. They don't like delays. Armed robbery is fast, internet robbery is much slower, so they try to speed things up. If you get a mail telling you to move quickly or that gives you a time deadline, it's most likely a scam.

Your response? Delete it.

27. Did you get a document or a copy of a passport that looks wrong, or even fake?
That's because it is fake. Our section the Little (Photo)Shop of Horrors is full of fake passports and fake IDs. You might even compare the one you got with what we have. (And we're always happy to add to our collection). We also have pages and pages of fake documents. We also have lots of photos that scammers use, and re-use.

If it looks fake, it is fake. Got one of those emails? Delete it. You don't need it.

28. Did you receive an email that asks you to pay some money in advance?
Such emails promise you LOTS of money in the future for a little money in advance. That's why this is known as the "Advance Fee Fraud" or "Advance Fee Scam". If you get one, it's a scam.

But could it be real? No it could not be real. It's never real. The only money involved is yours, and all you will do it give it away.

Got an email that promises you a big financial future? Best just to delete it.

29, Did you get an email that asks you to send money using Western Union"?
It is about 99.9% likely to be a scam.

Scammers love Western Union and MoneyGram. That's because ID requirements are more lax than elsewhere, like banks. In addition, WU and MG use "security questions". You can set one up, but as long as someone at the other end knows the answer, they can get the money. And you really never know who is getting the money at the other end, although if you do send it, you have sent money to a scammer.

Sometimes the email comes from a business that says they have difficulty in clearing payments from one part of the planet and that you can be the company's representative to do that. The story is false. Trillions of dollars move around the globe every day with no problems at all. Only scammers use this format claiming they have problems clearing their funds.

If the email even mentions using Western Union or MoneyGram, the best thing is just to delete it.

30. Did you receive an email with a phone number you are not sure about?
There are some signs that will tell you an email is probably a scam.

One is a phone number that uses the country code "+234". This is the country code for Nigeria. You will be calling there if you dial that number.

Another problem is when someone tells you they are in the UK and gives you a number with the country code "+44". This is the country code for the UK. However, if the the number begins with +44 701...., +44 702....etc, these belong to a redirect service in the UK. In short, if you called that number, it could ring anywhere in the world. Is the person in the UK? Possibly, but not very likely.

If you get a email with a phone, the best thing is NOT to call the number and just delete the email.

31. Did you receive an email offering to help you recover money you have lost?
Well, firstly, if you have not lost money due to an internet scam, then you know the email is a scam.

If you have lost money in an internet scam, then you should know that the chances of ever recovering it are about "zero". There are a few government agencies in a few countries that work to recover money lost due to fraud, but they are run by governments and they do not use free email servers.

There is an agency in Nigeria, the EFCC, that is tasked with helping foreigners recover money lost in 419 scams. But guess what? Scammers know all about that and they love to pose as EFCC agents who can help you recover your lost money. They can't, and you won't. In fact, very often it could be the same person who scammed you for a lot of money 6 months ago, or whatever. Scammers love victims who are willing to pay and pay and pay. And if you've paid a lot, they will try and tap you again, telling you they can help you recover and that "they" are honest but the other guys were crooks.

If you get one of these emails, you aren't going to recover anything. You will only pay. So just hit "delete".

32. If you won a lottery did you find the same numbers after doing a google search?
Great, you just won a lottery :) It might even tell you your winning ticket number, or your winning numbers. Google them. You may find that lots of other people have won with the exact same ticket number or lucky winning numbers. We even have some in "Scammer Central" (That's why we put them there).

If you find the same numbers in a google search, the lottery is a scam. The best thing to do with the email is to hit delete.

33. Do you find the person associated with various internet scams?
Google is your friend. Use it often. Google search the name of the person or people who send or are mentioned in the email. If the first few search items lead you to this website or a similar anti-fraud website, then you can bet the email came from a scammer.

Congratulations! :1: You got an email from a celebrity scammer. Wow, are you lucky.

But it's still a scam, so it's best to just hit "delete".

34. Do you find the person's email associated with various internet scams?
Google is your friend. Use it often. Google search the email of the person who sent you the email. Google search the email of any other email mentioned in the email. If the email address(es) lead(s) you to this website or a similar anti-fraud website, then you can bet the email came from a scammer.

It's still a scam and it's best to just hit "delete".

35. Does "Scamomatic" tell you the email is a scam?
Scamomatic is a brilliant program designed by Joe Wein, one of the smartest guys we know. He's been scam-fighting for years and all of us are indebted to him and the fantastic effort he has put in over the years. Scamomatic is one of his amazing tools. Go to www.scamomatic.com, copy and paste the text of the email you received.

Oh, and if Scamomatic tells you it's a scam, then it's a scam. And you can hit "delete".
 

De Master Yoda

Emeritus
Did you receive an email supposedly from the Uk but it is missing the pound sign= £?

Unless someone is using a UK keyboard the pound sign £ is not available on their keyboard. Yet another indication that the scammer is sending from another location. So instead we see them using things like " ?1.2 million pounds" or other non related symbols. They are now attempting to use "1.2 million GBP sterling" but they still are stopped from using the pound sign.

Another sign it is a scam is the use of US dollars or pounds. So we get scammers saying they have a lot of money in various accounts in places like Nigeria or Ghana etc yet they are never in their local currency.

Now if a trader or businessman was living and working in say Nigeria and banking his money there, would he lose money by changing it to US dollars to store in a bank and then lose more money to change it back again?
These are just other red flags to watch out for.
 
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