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Spam and Scam Emails (Phishing)

Email is a powerful communication tool, and often used by companies to inform you about their latest products and services. It is also frequently used to deliver unwanted material which is at best, annoying and at worst, malicious (e.g. containing viruses or spyware) – causing considerable harm to your computer and yourself.

  • Always be vigilant when receiving or responding to emails.
  • Make sure your spam filter is always switched on to minimise the risks.

How to spot spam

Spam emails may feature some of the following warning signs:

  • You don’t know the sender.
  • Contains misspellings (for example ‘t0day’ with a zero) designed to fool spam filters.
  • Makes an offer that seems too good to be true.
  • The subject line and contents do not match.
  • Contains an urgent offer end date (for example “Buy now and get 50% off”).
  • Contains a request to forward an email to multiple people and may offer money for doing so.
  • Contains a virus warning.
  • Contains attachments, which could include .exe files.

Email Scams

Scams are generally delivered in the form of a spam email. Scams are designed to trick you into disclosing information that will lead to defrauding you or stealing your identity.

Examples of email scams include:

  • Emails offering financial, physical or emotional benefits, which are in reality linked to a wide variety of frauds.
  • These include emails posing as being from ‘trusted’ sources such as your bank, HMRC or anywhere else that you have an online account. They ask you to click on a link and then disclose personal information.

Phishing emails

Phishing is a scam where criminals typically send emails to thousands of people. These emails pretend to come from banks, credit card companies, online shops and auction sites as well as other trusted organisations. They usually try to trick you into going to the site, for example to update your password to avoid your account being suspended. The embedded link in the email itself goes to a website that looks exactly like the real thing but is actually a fake designed to trick victims into entering personal information.

  • The email itself can also look as if it comes from a genuine source.
  • The email may not use your proper name, but a non-specific greeting such as “Dear customer.”
  • A sense of urgency; e.g. the threat that unless you act immediately your account may be closed.
  • A prominent website link. These can be forged or seem very similar to the proper address, but even a single character’s difference means a different website.
  • A request for personal information such as username, password or bank details.
  • You weren’t expecting to get an email from the organisation that appears to have sent it.
  • The entire text of the email may be contained within an image rather than the usual text format. The image contains an embedded link to a bogus site

Use email safely

  • Do not open emails which you suspect as being scams.
  • Do not forward emails which you suspect as being scams.
  • Do not open attachments from unknown sources.
  • If in doubt, contact the person or organisation the email claims to have been sent by … better safe than sorry.
  • Do not readily click on links in emails from unknown sources. Instead, roll your mouse pointer over the link to reveal its true destination, displayed in the bottom left corner of your screen. Beware if this is different from what is displayed in the text of the link from the email.
  • Do not respond to emails from unknown sources.
  • Do not make purchases or charity donations in response to spam email.
  • Don’t reply to unwanted email.

If you have lost money as a result of a phishing email, or via any other fraudulent activity, report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre by visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk.

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