Email Phraud: An Illustrated Guide

The proliferation of personal computers and easy access to the Internet have brought astounding opportunities and conveniences. Auction sites, relationship match making, effortless financial transactions, you can do just about anything you need to do without leaving your home.  

And with these advances in technology and mass communication, opportunities for criminals to separate you from your money have exploded.  

According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) 2009 Internet Crime Report, complaints of Internet related crime rose 22.3% to 336,655 submissions compared to 275,284 complaints in 2008. 

Let’s review some examples of scams the tech-savvy crooks use and tips that will help you avoid being a victim.

Tom receives an email that appears to be from his bank. It has the bank’s logo; it has his name in the greeting; it has a link that contains the bank’s name. The email states that there is a problem with Tom’s account, and they need him to verify his account information at the provided link.  

However, the website that the link goes to is a fake owned by a scammer. It may appear exactly like the actual bank website, but its only purpose is to get Tom’s account information and steal his money. 

Legitimate organizations will rarely ask for personal information in this manner.

Bobby, a struggling college student, needs to sublet his apartment. He advertises the apartment on his college’s student housing website. He quickly gets an email from Joey. Joey says the apartment is perfect, and his uncle will send a check for the $500 deposit.  

A week later, Bobby receives a cashier’s check for $1500. Bobby then receives an email from Joey telling him that there was a miscommunication with the uncle, and Joey asks that Bobby deposit the check and send back the extra difference by cashier’s check or money order.  

Bobby is glad to have someone in the apartment and has trust in the college provided housing list so he deposits the uncle’s check and immediately withdraws the difference and mails it. Five days later, the bank contacts Bobby and informs him that the check he deposited was counterfeit. Now Bobby has no tenant, has lost $1,000, and “Joey” is enjoying a shopping spree. 

If you are involved in a similar situation, make sure the check clears first.

George receives an email informing him that he has offended a gang or terrorist organization. The sender claims to be the hitman hired to “take care of” George and his family.  

However, according to the hitman, one of the gang members is a friend of a distant relative of George’s and has begged for leniency. So, the email states that George will be left alone if he coughs up $6,000. 

Threats of violence and murder are powerful emotional triggers. These emails are lies using fear to steal.

Cindy has just received wonderful news; her email address was randomly selected, and she has won a foreign lottery. According to the email, she just needs to send a processing fee of $1,000 to begin the transfer of her $500,000 lottery winnings.  

Unfortunately, Cindy will never see the $500,000 or her $1000 again. And she may continue to receive email requests for taxes, additional fees, and as much as she will continue to send. 

The golden rule to avoiding becoming the victim of a con artist: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Howard is a lonely man. He just cannot seem to find the right lady. After visiting some dating websites, he begins an email correspondence with a lovely girl in a foreign country. She shares pictures, is committed to advancing the relationship, and seems legitimate. 

Then she starts requesting money. She at first claims to need money for a plane ticket to come visit Howard. Then there is a snag, and she needs more money for a visa or for another mishap that keeps her from travelling. Howard is now lonely AND broke. 

Criminals have no regard or sympathy for their victims. They will target any emotion or difficult situation to get what they want. Consider all of the recent Haiti earthquake relief scams.

What if It Is Too Late?

If you believe you have been the victim of an Internet crime, please file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center:

Illustrated by Rackspace Artist Klaus Shmidheiser

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