Fraud: How to spot an email scam

Fraud: How to spot an email scam

Scammers are constantly coming up with new ways to worm their way into your email inbox and present you with ‘too good to be true’ offers.

Every year an estimated three million people fall victim to mass-marketed scams such as bogus lotteries, deceptive prize draws, fake psychics, get-rich-quick schemes and miracle health cures.

The Office of Fair Trading is in the middle of its Scams Awareness Month and will be posting guidance for small businesses and consumers on its website.

The OFT will also be reviving its nationwide Scamnesty, where consumers are asked to print out scam emails and drop them in Scamnesty bins in public areas.

Scamnesty deputy head Andrew Garrett said: “This is a very active sector and scammers are clever in the way they devise their emails. They are also very flexible – they will always find ways around new technology.

“In the current economic climate there will be even more opportunities for fraudsters.”

Febraury 2009 is Fraud Awareness Month on Travel WeeklyScam tactics are constantly changing, so it is important to keep tabs on the latest threats. At the moment, Garrett said small businesses should look out for emails offering business directory registration, office supplies and domain names, as well as ‘charitable’ publishing scams, fake invoices and bogus government agency scams.

Businesses should not be pressured into paying for a service they have not requested, advised Garrett. “Don’t buckle to threats of debt collection or a bad credit rating,” he said. “Take legal advice or contact Consumer Direct.”

The latest scams to hit the web

The trademarking scam

Travel companies have recently been targeted by bogus letters or emails asking for up to £1,000 to register their trademark.  The fraudsters are targeting holiday firms that have already submitted applications to register their trademarks in the UK.

Travel companies receive letters from organisations in the US, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and Liechtenstein asking for anything from £100 to 1,000 to register their trademarks on registers or ­databases. However, these ­registers are unofficial and there is no obligation to pay.

Fake e-tickets

Computer hackers have been distributing emails posing as United Airlines e-tickets last month. The messages come with attachments containing a harmful Trojan Horse virus.

The aim is to arouse the suspicion among recipients, who will open the attachment to see if their credit card details have been stolen. Opening the attachment allows the virus to infect a computer. The virus then enables the hackers to take over computers and access private information.

Phishing scam

Some taxpayers have been caught out in recent weeks by a phishing scam spread by an email telling the recipient that they have been awarded a tax refund by the HM Revenue and Customs and requesting their bank details.

The phishing attacks have originated from fake email addresses such as refundtax@hmrc.gov.co.uk or taxrefund@hmrc.gov.uk.

HMRC never uses email communication, only post.

Work-at-home scams

The FBI has published an international warning on its Internet Crime Complaint Center website about work-at-home scams. Victims are often hired to ‘process payments’, ‘transfer funds’ or ‘reship products’.

These job scams involve the victims receiving and cashing fraudulent cheques, transferring illegally obtained funds for the criminals, or receiving stolen merchandise and shipping it to the criminals.

How to spot an email scam

  • An implausible name and clearly fake email address should sound alarm bells.
  • Bad spelling and grammar will provide a clue that this is not written by a professional company.
  • A vague subject heading. This will help the email get past spam filters.
  • Scammers often use large blocks of texts to try to convince spam filters that a message is legitimate. The message is often hidden in the text or in an image.
  • Beware of any company that won’t provide its full name, telephone number and address.


February is Fraud Awareness Month in Travel Weekly. More at travelweekly.co.uk/fraud



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