Scam emails are designed to make you believe they come from someone or an organisation that you know and trust. They attempt to do this in a number of ways and can be very convincing.
Emails from ‘your bank’
Generally known as phishing emails, the message will ask you to click a link and log in to your online account to update your information. The email may contain your bank’s logo and some official-sounding text. But if you click on the link in the email you’ll actually be taken to a website set up by the scammer, who will take the details you put in and use them to steal from your account.
Never click on a link in an unsolicited email. Hover your mouse over the link and it will show the address where the link will actually take you. No bank will ask you to re-enter your details in this way – if in doubt, go to your bank’s official website and check.
Emails from ‘friends’
Other scam emails pretend to be from someone you know, perhaps telling you that their money has been stolen while on holiday and asking for a loan. Often, the way they’re written will give away the fact that they’re a hoax - be aware for poor quality of English, particularly bad spelling and grammar. If in doubt, contact the person directly by another means before opening any attachments or clicking any links.
Emails from ‘abroad’
Another common scam is the lottery win, the long lost inheritance or bank account transfer. These all play on our dreams of suddenly becoming rich. Again, these emails can seem very convincing and at first you may feel amazed at winning a lottery that you had never entered, or that you will receive money from a dead relative you didn’t realise you had, or that someone will pay you handsomely if you let them transfer money into your account temporarily. The giveaway clue is that you’ll be asked to provide bank details in order to secure these tempting funds. Remember, if an email sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is.
Trust your instincts
If you’re in any doubt, don’t click on any links or attachments, and don’t respond. If your email system allows it, simply mark it as spam, junk or a scam, otherwise delete it. If you’re unsure, telephone the company directly or email using an address from their website to ask if they’ve contacted you.
Top tips to avoid email scams
Many of us have been on the receiving end of an email scam, or know people who have. These tips will help to protect you.
- Make sure you have anti-virus software on your computer, and update it at least daily or each time your computer is switched on (you can set it to do this automatically). Also install a personal firewall. This is your first line of defence to protect yourself against unwanted or malicious emails.
- Never open emails from people you don't know. Delete them and empty the recycle bin straight away.
- Only download software from reputable sources that you trust. Free games and screensavers might be hiding software that could infect your PC.
- Never reply to phishing emails. No real financial institution will ever ask you for your credentials in an email. If in doubt, call your bank to check if the information is required.
- Before you click on any link, check the website address in the email. Open a browser window and use a search engine to find the site. If the addresses don’t match, it's probable that the site you’re about to visit is fake.
- Check your bank and credit card statements regularly and carefully to spot any unusual activity. Report any unfamiliar transactions to your bank straight away.