Scam Emails: How To Spot Them and What You Can Do to Protect Yourself

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Scam emails. They have been a nuisance ever since the email was invented. Most scam emails are only an annoyance clogging up your inbox, but some can pose a significant threat to your personal and business data.

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In this article, we will be outlining a few of the most common types of scam emails, what you can do to detect them and make sure your inbox is free of unwanted emails in the future.

Scam emails and what you can do to protect yourself

Is this email a scam?

Nowadays, we easily give out our email to any sites without much thoughts, which leaves our accounts open for receiving emails from people we do not even know. 

These emails can be very harmful to your computer and/or sensitive data once opened, releasing malware onto your device. They can also trick you into entering your details into a fake website, resulting in you becoming a victim of identity theft. There are also scams that mimic reputable websites, websites that you trust and yet still send about 5 emails a day.

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How to identify harmful scam

Luckily, scam emails are actually quite easy to spot. Many email service providers already have built-in spam detectors that can filter out any suspicious emails instantly. However, these detectors are not always 100 per cent effective.

It is important to stay vigilant and keep your eye out for any suspicious threads. Below are some key points to watch out for.

  • Strange Sender: The sender of an email should always be checked before opening an email. Many scammers use email addresses with a series of numbers and letters, or even an email URL that is very similar to a reputable company.  
  • Outrageous Promises: If an email subject line is offering you money or gifts for free then do not open the email. These promises of gifts or ‘easy-money’ are used to entice users to click on the email.
  • Grammar Errors: If the email has any type of grammar or spelling error, then it is highly likely this email does not come from a legitimate source. These errors are common because most scammers do not speak your language and are targeting foreign residents. 
  • Strange Content: If you open an email and it directs you to an external website with a long and complicated URL that you do not recognise, this is harmful spam. Some scam emails also use pornographic videos and pictures in the email body to lure victims. You should also be wary of attachments. Any emails received with an attachment you were not expecting or requested should not be opened. 

Scam emails

An example of a scam email from a reputable source.

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Common types of scam emails

These are only some of the most common types of scams that are sent out daily to millions of recipients.

  • Advertisements: Beware advertising emails. These types of scams try to sell a product that does not exist in order to gain your payment information. The most common types of products are Medication, such as Viagra, dietary supplements, or even anti-virus software.
  • Money Scams: Any email mentioning money should not be opened. These emails may offer you a money prize, or they may pose as PayPal and inform you of a pending payment received. Reputable sources will never email you with an attention-grabbing subject line or asking you for money out of the blue through email. You should never give money to a charity you have never heard of through email.
  • Chain Emails: These emails are used to quickly spread malware. They usually have a story in the email body urging you to forward the email to your friends.
  • Believable Subject Lines: These can be more difficult to detect because the subject lines resemble the ones of trusted sources you are subscribed to. 

The subject lines can say things like ‘ONE (1) UNREAD MESSAGE’ or ‘MALWARE DETECTED’. In this case, it is important to carefully check the sender before opening the email.

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What to do if you find a scam email?

Finding a suspicious email is nothing to be scared of. Most of us have very public emails that are easily found by scammers. It is important, however, to never open an email you think might contain a scam. 

Scam emails are not just dangerous for the scam they are trying to play. They also contain malware that will be activated when the email is opened. This malware can steal your information and sometimes even corrupt your device. If this malware hacks one of your accounts, they will likely gain access to all of your data.

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A scam email should be deleted after you have blocked the sender. If your email service provider has flagged an email as spam, be sure to tick the ‘this is spam’ option available on most platforms. This will help your email perform better in detecting future threats.

What if you have already opened a scam email?

If you have opened a scam email not realising what it was then there are a few important steps you can take to stay safe.

  • Make sure to scan your device for viruses. If you do not have a built-in or paid virus detector, then there are various free-to-use software on the internet that offer great service.
  • If you have given your payment information to a scammer, then it is best to immediately contact your bank to freeze the account that information belongs to and request a new card. 
  • If you are worried about your other accounts being hacked from an opened scam email, change your passwords to any accounts linked to your email address as well as unlinking any cards or bank accounts on those websites.
  • Many countries have specific laws to protect you from scams. If the email has misled you into paying for a service or product you have not received, it is best to take legal action. 

How to prevent scam emails in the future 

Most email service providers already have built-in spam blockers. These blockers, as you may have noticed, are not perfect, however. It is always important to be cautious when opening emails and be cautious when giving your email to websites with a questionable origin. 

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More advanced spam blockers are being developed to keep you safer with no extra effort on your part. Mozilla Firefox is in the process of creating an add-on that will make an email alias whenever you give your email address to a website. 

Thus, the website will send emails to the email alias, which will then be forwarded to your actual account. This ensures that the website never receives your actual account information, and therefore, cannot be found by scammers. However, you can track the scammers and find out which website they got your email from.  You can cancel the alias account anytime, and your real email account will be safe.

This add-on is still in its development phase when released it will be an easy one-click solution to email protection. 

The most important scam blocker, however, is your own eyes. Make sure to regularly check your inbox thoroughly using the tips and tricks outlined in this article. 

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