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E-mail Scams

Here are some e-mail messages you will get, sooner or later. They are all scams.

The Nigerian Letter Scam:
A corrupt Nigerian Oil Minister [Public Works accountant, Chinese banker, Arabian merchant] has picked you at random to help him spirit millions of dollars out of his country. The money comes from bribery, embezzlement, a rich man who died in an accident without heirs, a mysterious trunk or smuggled diamonds. The stories are diverse, but they all have something in common - you don't know the person, there is a fortune involved and they trust you, oddly enough, even though you have never met. (In one variation, the rich man who died had your surname.)

After you send them your bank account information, so they can transfer the money by wire, they suck your account dry.It sounds ridiculous; if you someone offered you a fortune in your supermarket parking lot, you'd suspect a con game. Somehow it seems reasonable on the Internet. According to www.419legal.org, a web site run by the South African Police, people worldwide lose US $200,000,000 a year to these scams.

The Lottery Scam:
You've won a lottery you don't remember entering. Just send them a small processing fee and the cash will show up on your doorstep next week! Don't hold your breath.

The Bank Scam:
Your bank, credit union, credit card company, PayPal, E-Bay . . . needs you to update your account information, including your account number and PIN; if you don't, your account will be suspended. In one variation, your bank will pay $50 into your account if you fill out a customer survey - again, you have to give them your account number.

Forward to Everyone:
The United States Congress is going to take "In God We Trust" off our coins, put a tax on e-mail or convert the Lincoln Monument to a McDonald's. You have to write to your representative to stop them. Forward the e-mail to everyone you know so that they can write too. This one doesn't cost any money, but it makes you look foolish. Plus, if any of the people you forward it to have a virus on their computer, it may be able to "mine" your message for e-mail addresses, then send itself to them. In general, if a message asks you to forward it to everyone you know, don't.

The Hot Stock Tip:
An official-sounding group highly recommends a particular stock as guaranteed to rise in the next few days. Again, like the Nigerian Letter Scam and the Lottery Scam, they don't know you. This one works if enough people fall for it. If couple of thousand people buy the stock, its price will go up, briefly. So, figuring one out of every thousand people who get the e-mail will buy, all the scammer has to do is buy shares, send out an e-mail message to 8,000,000 of his closest friends, wait for it to go up, then sell before the stock goes back to its normal level.

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This page updated: June 21, 2014