Consumer Law

Email Scams and Frauds

Like millions of people across the globe, you probably use a computer or smartphone to access the internet to handle most of your personal and business tasks. You probably use email everyday, and dozens of times a day, to communicate with family and friends, not to mention to do your job.

The volume of email you receive and pop-up messages on your screen put your finances and identity at risk and pose threats to your computer or phone by email launched malware. Prevention and attention pays off when it comes to avoiding email and other related internet scams, so know what to look for and how to avoid scammers.

Phishing for Your Information

Phishing is scamming through the internet or email. The scammers' objective is to get access to your valuable personal information, such as bank account, credit card and social security numbers.

Scammers also try to gain access to your computer files where you store that personal information, as well information like your online passwords.

Screen Your Email

You don't have to open every email that appears in your inbox. Scammers design fraudulent emails to trick you into opening or replying to their messages. Never answer and give out personal, identifying or financial data. Legitimate companies or other sources, such as a government agency like the IRS, don't ask for this info in email messages.

Contact the sender by another method, such as the phone, if you have any doubts about an email.

Slow Down a Bit

Take your time when taking care of tasks on the internet. You could be lured to a secondary site, which may look like the web site of a company you do business with. Once there, you provide your data and it's in the hands of the scammers.

Dump It

Any email from a sender you don't know, or any message that looks odd - even if it's from someone you know - should be sent to your spam folder or deleted without opening. Some scammers or virus or malware creators access user address books, and use that information to reach new victims. So, it's possible a fraudulent message looks like it came from a sender you know.

Don't download files unless you're sure of the sender and file type. Download the wrong file and scammers may get instant access to your computer or may cause serious and permanent damage to your computer.

Know Where You Are & Whom You're Talking To

Beware of look-alike sites and senders. Email and internet scammers design their messages and sites to look like the source is a company you do business with or a government agency. Know how to recognize secure sites, such as URLs beginning with "https:" (the s means secure), or a padlock in the address bar. Watch out for redirections, or links that may send you to a fraudulent site.

When making purchases on the internet, also check for trust marks and other signs that your information is less likely to be hacked. It's probably difficult to say your online purchases will always be safe, but look for basic information that gives you a sense of protection before providing your credit card information.

Stay Safe on the Internet

In addition to taking care when reviewing and opening email, there are other steps you can take to keep your personal information and finances safe while enjoying all the convenience and power of the internet.

Threat-Detecting Software

Use anti-virus and firewall software, and keep it updated. Choose computer settings to screen for harmful communications and virus attacks. Anti-virus and firewall software can prevent harmful software from installing on your computer, and can fix breaches in your internet security. Firewall software also helps protect your privacy on the internet and blocks unwanted sources from accessing your system.

Keep Your System Up-To-Date

Updates to keep your system secure are often automatic. They may be activated and installed by your security software, or by your computer or operating system manufacturer, like Windows, for example. Don't ignore updates; there are new threats all the time, and your equipment needs to be up-to-date.

Getting FTC Help

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers consumer resources to avoid these risks, and help if you're a victim. You can forward suspicious emails to the FTC at You can also file an online complaint form, or learn more about spam.

Yes, the internet and email are wonderful tools for communicating, learning, working and entertainment. Be careful and know how to recognize and avoid some of the dangers posed by scammers so the fun and productivity doesn't come to a screeching halt.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Are email and internet scams considered crimes or consumer issues?
  • I'm a victim of an email scam; do any state laws address my problem?
  • Can I file a lawsuit against email scammers?
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