Email is a fantastic tool for communication. It allows people to stay in touch with each other and it enables businesses to promote their products and services. However, it can also be used for the delivery of unwanted materials. This can be annoying but, more worryingly, it can also be malicious. Malicious email can be damaging to your computer and to yourself as well. There are a number of different types of email fraud that you must be aware of.

Spam and Junk Email

Unfortunately, the vast majority of email messages that are sent on a daily basis are actually spam email, which means they are unsolicited and/or unwanted. Some examples include:

• Email advertising things, such as gambling, dating, pornography and online pharmacies.
• Work from home and get rich quick schemes.
• Fake virus warnings.
• Hoax appeals from charities.
• Chain emails that promise ‘good luck’ if they are forwarded to many other contacts.

Spammers get your email address in a number of different ways. These include:

• The use of automated software that generates email addresses.
• Using fraudulent websites to collect people’s email addresses.
• Hacking into other websites to steal user details, including their email addresses.
• Buying email lists, either legal ones or those compiled by other spammers.
• Asking people to click on a link to have their email address removed, which goes to a fraudulent website.
• Taking names from cc lines that people forget to delete.

Remember that as soon as you reply to a spam email, you have confirmed that your email address is correct, and you will be likely to receive more.

Spam is reasonably easy to spot. Look for some of these red flags:

• Not personally knowing the sender.
• Finding spelling mistakes, particularly things such as replacing the letter ‘o’ with the number ‘0’, so that spam filters are fooled.
• Offers that seem too good to be true.
• Subject lines that are irrelevant to the content.
• Offers that have urgent end dates.
• Requests for the email to be forwarded to other people, particularly if you are offered money to do so.
• Virus warnings.
• Emails with attachments and particularly.exe files.

You must be aware of the risks of spam emails, which include:

• The potential of being infected with spyware and viruses.
• The fact that these emails can be phishing emails, which are designed to defraud you.
• The possibility of being subjected to highly offensive messages and content.

Email Scams

Spam email can also be an email scam. These are created in the hope that you will provide a fraudster with information that allows them to steal your identity. It is very important that you learn to recognize email scams to protect yourself and your information. Some examples of scam emails are:

• An email that offers you some sort of benefit (emotional, physical or financial). The emails are linked to many different types of fraud that could cost you anything from a few dollars to your life savings.
• Emails that pretend to come from ‘trusted’ sources, such as the IRS or your bank. These emails will ask you to click on a link, which will guide you to a website that looks equally trusted. This is designed to trick you into divulging your personal information.

Phishing Emails

Another particular type of scam is known as phishing. These are emails that look as if they come from trusted organizations, as described above. This can be an online shop, your bank, your insurance company, etc. The message will usually tell you that you must take certain steps to stop your account from being suspended, or to receive some sort of financial reward. In reality, however, you are being tricked into divulging personal information, such as your banking details, your social security number, or shop information. These emails are very cleverly designed and look genuine. However, there are a few things you can do to recognize them:

• The email address from the sender does not seem to match the website itself.
• The email address is a free email, such as Yahoo or Google.
• You are not addressed by your proper name, instead showing a generic name like ‘dear customer’.
• There is a sense of urgency in the email. For instance, it will tell you that you must act immediately to stop your account from being suspended.
• The link to the website they want you to click on looks very prominent. It may have a different font or a larger character size, for instance. If you were to check the link carefully, you will usually find that there are some small differences, such as one character, between that site and the official one.
• You didn’t expect that you would receive an email from that particular organization.
• The email text is not actually text but rather an image.

Be Safe When Using Email

There are a number of tips that will help you stay safe when using email:

• Never open a message that looks like spam.
• Never forward messages that you are not 100% sure of.
• Never open an attachment, even if it is from a friend. They may have accidentally sent it through. Speak to them in person and ask whether the attachment is safe to open.
• Be very wary of links, particularly if you don’t know the source. Roll your mouse over it to see where the link is actually going to, which you can usually see in the bottom left side of your screen. If this is not the same, it is likely to be a scam.
• Don’t reply to emails that come from people you don’t know.
• Never buy anything or donate to a charity as a response to email.
• Do not click on the ‘remove from subscription’ link in an email from an untrusted source.
• Check your junk folder. Sometimes, legitimate emails will go in there.
• Never cc an email, but always bcc it. That way, you won’t accidentally share lots of other people’s addresses to spammers.
• Before you reply to an email, delete any addresses in the email string.
• If an email is suspicious, check whether it is listed with the Register of Known Spam Operators.
• Make sure your spam filter is switched on, particularly if you use a free provider like Yahoo or Google.
• Block any untrusted sources you spot in your email inbox, so that they automatically go to junk in the future.
• Make sure you have an internet security package that includes a spam filter. Keep your package up to date and switched on at all times.