MacWizard > Frauds, Scams & Hoaxes Home > Scams & Cons > How to Spot a Scam

Frauds, Scams & Hoaxes Frauds, Scams & Hoaxes Home | Contents & Index Frauds | Scams & Cons | Hoaxes & Myths | Online Resources
Pyramid Schemes | eMail Scams | Chain Letters | Sympathy Chain Letters | Defamation | Hacked History | Hoaxes | Inferred Violence | Malicious Code Hoaxes | Manipulation & Trickery | Misinformation & Propaganda | Myths | Photo-Manipulations | Rumors | September 11 Hoaxes & Rumors | True Hoaxes | Urban Legends

Scams & Cons

How to Spot a Scam

Under Construction


Here is a checklist that will help you determine whether or not you have received a scam email - If all or most of the items on the list are true, run away... don't walk!

You did not enter the "lotto" or "contest"

You have never heard of this lottery, contest, or the companies or groups involved

The email sender is the same as the addressee (i.e. you seem to have sent this email to yourself)

This by itself is a red flag. No legitimate organization or company would use this form of deceit to

You have been "blind copied" (bcc: your name), or "carbon copied" (cc: your name and many others)

If the personalized email you received is a request for you to help someone in need, and they've shosen you as the "obvious" contact, they aren't going to send the same email to a whole group of people.

They are asking you for some type of payment, like a "processing", "handling" or "transfer" fee

They are asking you for your bank account information (bank account number, routing number, etc)

They are asking you for credit card information (account number, expiration date)

You have been asked to log onto an online bank account set up for you

They are asking for your social security number (U.S. citizens)

Never give your social security number to anyone online (or over the phone) unless you know the individual or entity requesting the information, know that the person or company is legitimate, and specifically understand why it is needed. Government agencies, health-related companies, insurance companies, credit reporting agencies, companies that offer charge cards for the purchase of their goods and products, and credit card companies may need your social security number, but... online stores, lotto registration, contests, and people or companies you don't know, should NOT be given your social security number. SPECIAL NOTE: If asked to put your social security number on a hand-written check, do NOT, and certainly don't have your social security number printed on your checks.

You are asked not to discuss this issue with anyone else, and tell you that it is "secret" or "confidential"

The fewer people who know about the scheme, the less chance there is of being foiled or caught.

There are misspelled words, poorly structured sentences, and other grammatical issues

Few companies would issue email statements, or allow for the creation of web pages that contained blatant misspellings unprofessional wording, poor sentence structure, and other grammatical errors.

The spelling of words, or the sentence structure, doesn't match the spelling of words or sentence structure used in the country or region represented. As an example, if the sender claims that the email, or the web site you have been directed to, is from/in Great Britain, but the spelling of words is American-English, that's a red flag.

In the specific example of American vs British English: The spelling of English words in the U.S. is subtly different than the spelling of English words in Great Britain or it's former territories and possessions (Canada, Australia, India, South Africa, etc). Most likely the spelling used in an email issued by, or on a web site maintained by, a British-based company, would be British-English. With the advent of email client software and web page authoring software that includes auto-correction or spell checker features, incorrectly spelled words would be flagged and/or automatically corrected. Authoring software on a computer in the U.S. would normally find British-English spellings misspelled, while authoring software on a computer in Great Britain would normally find the American-English spellings misspelled*. American-English spellings would indicate an American source, British-English spellings would indicate a source in Great Britain, Australia, Canada, South Africa, or possibly Europe (little comes from India).

*There are ways that computers from one region could be used in another despite the power differences, or changes that could be made to software settings that would produce a deceptive result.

American-English vs British-English

color vs colour

check vs checque

organization vs organisation

defense vs defence

labor vs labour

$100 vs 100$US

The "reply-to" email address and/or email links sends mail to a free web-based email service such as Yahoo! Mail, Excite Mail, Hotmail, Caramail, Arabmail, etc.

Legitimate organizations, government entities, and businesses will have their own domains - usually containing their company or product name, or a word associated with their business. The domain is the item after the "@" character (in email addresses), and the item after the "www." (in web URL's), and before the ".com", ".org", ".net", ".gov", etc. in either type of address. Smaller businesses, charities, and not-for-profits may use ISP-based email and web sites that return a domain of "", "" or some other recognized domain. You can find out who owns the right to use a specific domain name in either case - which is why con artists use the free services - they can't be easily identified.



(3) The two web sites that are accessible through this email look very real, but both misspell words and use poor grammar. You can bet that any legitimate company would have reviewed their web site, and wouldn't have misspellings or grammatical issues. Watch for misspellings and poor grammar in all suspicious email.

(4) Both web sites use the American-English spelling of words, rather unusual for a British-based company to do. It is highly unlikely that a legitimate London-based British company would use anything other than the British-English spelling of words. In suspicious email, watch for regional spellings and sentence structure that doesn't seem right. Note that spell checkers in email client programs will flag misspellings based on the computer's settings... In my case, my computer preferences are set to U.S. English ­ because I live in the U.S., but on British (and even most Canadian) computers the words would be flagged as misspelled. This all reinforces the U.S. origins of this email.

(5) The claim form asks for your banking information ­ NEVER give any person or entity that you don't know your (a) bank account numbers, (b ) credit card numbers, (c) social security number (if you are a U.S. Citizen), (d) mother's maiden name, or (e) any other personal information that could allow someone to take your money or worse... your identity. Legitimate contests and lotteries do NOT ask for this information, although the government (IRS) might (you can bet that if you win PowerBall, the IRS will want your social security number).

Although, in this case, the email for both web sites is handled through their own Internet domain, watch for alleged companies that use free email services like Yahoo! or Hotmail... legitimate companies don't do that.


is the letter or e-mail from a stranger
* does the writer claim to be the wife, son, assistant, attache or banker to some famous (possibly dead) person
* does the writer claim to be a Chief, Prince, Doctor, Minister, etc.
* do the words "secret" or "confidential" appear
* did the writer find you "through the internet", or some directory or organization you never heard of
* is the letter addressed to "dear CEO" even though you're a retired dentist or wheat farmer?
* is the e-mail From: and To: the same person, and are there hundreds of other e-mail addresses in the Cc: section of this ultra-secret e-mail?
Are heaps of dollars, euros, pesos or yen supposedly coming your way because

* a great business contract is being offered you
* a relative with maybe (coincidentally) the same last name as you has left you the money
* the name isn't the same but you're offered the chance to impersonate the inheritor (a crime by the way)
* the writer's father (murdered by his business associates) left the money in two trunk boxes in a 'security' company in Abidjan or somewhere
* the writer supposedly embezzled the money from the government agency which has for years undervalued his efforts and left him with a tiny pension


[ This section is really the kicker. The details don't matter. Letter from a stranger? Unexpected money just dropping into your life? Alarm bells should be flashing. It doesn't matter if the writer's name is slightly different than last week, or supposedly heads an orphanage or is a reformed killer. It doesn't matter if his writing is stellar and arrives on parchment. You could stop reading here. ]

* are you asked for your bank account information
* are you asked for your phone or fax number
* is the phone/fax number in West Africa or Holland or the Philippines?
* is it a satellite phone? (starts with 874)
* is the writer using some free e-mail provider (yahoo, caramail, arabmail, maktoob, rediffmail, hotmail, etc.)
* does the writer have several e-mail accounts or keep changing them?
* is the writer supposedly in a refugee camp - a camp with an internet cafe and, who knows, an espresso bar?
* does the writer ask you to log on to some online bank account supposedly set up for you


* does the writer refer to online newspaper stories about prominent foreigners, hoping that merely because these people exist and were mentioned in a newspaper, that you will believe the writer is somehow connected with them
* does the writer use poor spelling, mangled grammar and overblown imagery
* does the writer mention God a lot, or his religious conversion
* does the writer talk about 'coming over' to your country to get an education, or raise his poor orphaned sister, or buy real estate or invest under your guidance (even though you're 14 years old)
* does the writer send pictures of money? lame-looking certificates? family photos which look to have been snipped from the daily paper?
* does the writer make the mistake of mentioning up front that there will be "demurrage" or other fees to collect the imaginary money

Last but really first: do you honestly believe that someone who claims to have stolen millions of dollars is

* someone you want to deal with
* smart enough to steal a LOT of money but somehow unable to move the funds on his own
* will transfer it to a complete stranger (you) in hopes that you will give back 80% of i








Do You Have Comments or Questions?
Click Here


Report Broken Links to WebMaster

© 2003