How to Spot Fraudulent
Emails and Online Scams

Would you be able to recognize an online scam if you saw one? Most of us would like to think that we could identify a fraudster in our inbox, but unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

The truth is that scammers are getting smarter. Every time a scam is exposed, a new, more sophisticated one comes along, which means that web users have to constantly be on alert.

So how can we learn to spot them if they’re designed to be subtle and innocuous? 

Many online frauds play on people’s emotions. This is recognizable in even the earliest of internet scams like the ‘Nigerian prince’ email scam, which hinged on a heartfelt plea to help a disenfranchised Nigerian royal regain his wealth.

Online scams have come a long way since then. With these schemes getting smarter, almost anyone can be duped. All it takes is a momentary lapse in judgment or clicking a link out of pure habit.

Identifying Phishers

Phishing or ‘data mining’ scams often come in the guise of emails or text messages. They will attempt to steal your private information like your bank account numbers, passwords, or Social Security details. Sometimes it’s easy to recognize them - like the ones with garbled text, poor grammar, and suspicious-looking links. But others are far more insidious because they pretend to come from sites and/or people you know and trust. Some phishers put a lot of effort into crafting an email that looks legitimate, down to logos and formatting.

Once you know how to identify phishing scams, you’ll be better equipped to recognize an attempt to scam you. However, it’s vital to stay cautious because many phishing scams will play on fear and uncertainty and will often attempt to force you into making a hasty decision. Don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion if you suspect a message is a scam.

Scams that require ‘immediate action’ can sometimes frighten people into making bad decisions. Things like hacked accounts, expired information, or compromised credit cards can make people jump to attention, subsequently making them more vulnerable to being scammed. It’s very human to have poor judgment when we’re scared… and unfortunately, that’s what many scammers rely on.

But it’s not the end of the world if you make a mistake. The important thing is that you educate yourself on the dangers of online fraud and know how to combat the results of falling for one.

Man looking at computer scam and credit card suspiciously

Recovering from a Scam

If you clicked on a suspicious link or gave away your financial information and you realize it too late, what are you supposed to do? We have a few recommendations.

1 – Keep a record of the scam. Collect any information regarding the names they used, email addresses, and conversations you had with them. If you clicked on a link and it’s still up, take a screenshot of it and write down the URL. This will be helpful later if the scam escalates into a significant legal matter.

2 - If you know someone who is familiar with the ins and outs of network security and data privacy, reach out and ask for help regarding the scam. Again, it’s okay to ask for assistance. Fraud isn’t a new concept, and many people have fallen for these kinds of schemes before the internet was involved.

3 – Keep a close eye on your finances. Watch any credit cards you have and notify your bank of the potential scam. Many banks will automatically put a fraud alert on your card if a suspicious or out-of-country withdrawal occurs.

4 – File a fraud alert if you know the scammer has your financial information. You can even take the matter to court as a civil suit if needed. A good place to start is the Department of Justice directory.

5 - Sometimes, online threats go unnoticed but slip in through the cracks of your network. To avoid security breaches, add Guardian to your Kosciusko Connect network. Guardian protects your devices from threats daily and lets you monitor the online activity of whoever has access to your network. Call 574-269-0327 to ask about Guardian.

Further Reading:

Expert Q&A: Digital Literacy and Data Privacy

7 Ways to Secure Your Personal Online Data

How to Stay Safe Online