14 Dangerous Emails That Could Be in Your Inbox

It’s ubiquitous — “Dialing-For-Dollars” version 3.0: a gateway to irresistible deals; an antidote to loneliness; a pathway to riches (either earned or not); a vehicle for helping those victimized by man-made or natural disasters; a clarion of sensational news; a conduit for memories; the bearer of less than glad tidings from our bank, our boss or our friends at the IRS; and, the cyber pony-express for a cry for help from a friend or relative lost and “penniless” in a foreign land.

Once the little brother of the telephone, email is now an inescapable part of the communication fabric of our lives — an important building block of our cyber DNA. And it is being attacked, and ultimately hijacked, repeatedly by those who want to be us so they can more effectively loot us, our families and friends.

Unlike Jesus and his Apostles, Ivan and his hordes of “phishermen” see us as fish and our personal data as their loaves.

The FBI reported an 8.3 percent rise in cybercrime last year. That’s 290,000 incidents worth $525 million in financial losses to victims. The average take was $4,573.

For your amazement and unbridled reading pleasure, I’ve compiled an extensive — though not complete — list of dangerous emails containing the major phishing scams circulating right now.

Get everything you need to master your credit today.
Get started for free

1. I am Wandering in the Desert With Nary a Farthing to My Name (aka The Stranded Traveler Scam)

With summer travel season upon us, watch for emails from “friends” claiming they were robbed while traveling in Europe or Asia, and need money immediately. The FBI says this lure regularly costs victims thousands of dollars apiece.

Tip: Before sending money, verify that your friend is actually in trouble through another form of communication.

2. Come Fly With Me (aka Travel Deals Too Good to Be True)

Another hot scam is phishing emails advertising amazing travel deals. Years ago the Better Business Bureau found consumers lose $10 billion annually to travel scams like this. Some emails resemble this recent letter offering free tickets from “United Airways,” which doesn’t exist.

Tip: A cheap ticket could send you to the poor house. The phrase “too good to be true” is a cliché for a reason.

3. Render Unto Caesar That Which Is Caesar’s (aka Urgent Messages From a Bank or Government Agency)

In one recent phishing attack, scammers pretending to uphold the “strict security standards” of HSBC bank asked recipients to report scam emails to the bank’s website. But the link itself contained dangerous malware. Other thieves intimidate victims by impersonating top FBI officials or bring unwelcome greetings from the IRS announcing that you owe them money and need to pay up ASAP. Remember: Financial institutions and government agencies never communicate sensitive information by email.

Tip: Never click a link or open an attachment from a government agency or bank.

4. When It Absolutely, Positively Had to Be Here by Now (aka the ‘Missed Delivery’ Scam)

Scammers know we hate to miss packages. In one common scam, they send phishing messages that appear to be from UPS or FedEx notifying us that a package could not be delivered. Among the top 20 keywords used in phishing, 14 had to do with shipping, according to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Tip: If your package goes walkabout, call UPS or FedEx directly.

5. Can You Hear Me Now? (aka the Cellular Carrier Email Scam)

Scammers send emails directing people to a clone website made to look exactly like their cellular carrier’s real website. They are asked to enter their passwords and the last four digits of their Social Security numbers, and click for discounts, credits or prizes worth up to $500. Using the data, thieves hijack the victim’s account.

Tip: If you want a deal from your cell carrier, visit their store, call them or go directly to their website.

6. Hey Buddy Can You Spare a Dime? (aka the Bank Employee Phishing Scam)

If you work at a bank or financial institution, you’re at special risk of getting targeted in a phishing scam. Scammers use insider bank lingo and stolen employee login credentials to convince employees to initiate wire transfers overseas worth up to $900,000, the FBI finds.

Tip: If you work with money, keep your guard up.

7. They’re Baaaaack! (aka The Nigerian Princes Are Back and Better Than Ever Scams)

Nigerian scammers are more sophisticated than ever. In addition to old lures including international lotteries, and get-rich schemes helping deposed dictators transfer secret caches of cash out of their Swiss bank accounts, they’ve started “buying” items on eBay and sending fake PayPal emails confirming the purchases.

Tip: Old scams never die. They simply evolve.

8. I Can Make You Rich From Your Couch (aka Work-at-Home Scams)

Harvesting contacts through resume websites, schemers lure victims by convincing them to download various software programs for their new “jobs,” cash checks in return for a transaction fee, or post their credit card info online.

Tip: Easy money usually isn’t.

9. Danger, Will Robinson! (aka the Hit Man Scam)

It sounds outlandish, but scammers regularly send emails to warn people that the only way to prevent being assassinated is to buy a security alarm connected to “Agent Bauer” of the “International Intelligence Bureau.”

Tip: If you have a target on your back, the guy with the gun isn’t about to offer you the right to buy a “get out of jail free” card.

10. We Can Save You Thousands on Your Mortgage! (aka the Elusive Loan Modification Scam)

Phishing emails offer homeowners lower interest rates and payments, advising their marks to stop all communication with their lenders, in return for up-front fees.  This is the perfect recipe for being fleeced while you lose your home. You pay, they flee — you circle the drain.

Tip: Complex home refinancing deals don’t get made via email.

11. You Just Call Out My Name and You Know Wherever I Am I’ll Come Running (aka the Emails From ‘Old Friends’ Scam)

California Polytechnic University is warning students to be on the lookout for emails from “old friends” that may actually come from scammers who have hacked old email accounts. Dormant email accounts are rarely checked and ripe for attack.

Tip: Want to connect with an old friend? Use Facebook (although that isn’t a complete safe haven, either), or pick up the phone.

12. Hey Kid, Have I Got a Deal for You! (aka the Hot Investment Tip Scam)

The latest iteration of this scam involves hackers learning which stocks people own, and sending phishing emails advising victims to sell underperforming stocks. The associated “tax payments” go to the thieves.

Tip: No reputable operation will let you buy and sell stocks by email.

13. Help me Rhonda, Help, Help me Rhonda (aka the Confirm This Nonexistent Transaction Scam)

Scammers send emails asking victims to confirm purchases they never made. One recent iteration involves fake tickets on American Airlines.

Tip: Legitimate companies only ask you to confirm purchases once when you’re already on their site.

14. Where Have You Been All My Life? (aka the Russian Lonely Girl Scam)

It’s the email you have been waiting for your whole life. A beautiful Eastern European woman with whom you have been exchanging pleasantries on a social networking site is ready to meet you. You may have already seen comely pictures and are ready to pick her up at the airport when she gets to the U.S. Only one problem – she needs a ticket and will come as soon as you give her your credit card information, or wire some funds from your local Western Union.

Tip:  Never send money to anyone you have never met or actually spoken with.

The days of the simple phishing scam are gone. Even the fake Nigerian prince has grown up, learned better English, and often serves as an intermediary on other, bigger scams. As phishing scams develop, it’s more important than ever to remain alert to potentially dangerous emails. Take a moment to consider each email in your inbox, and determine if it sounds legitimate. If not, you could become some scammer’s next big catch.

Image: iStockphoto

You Might Also Like

A young Black man sits crosslegged in bed on his laptop.
There were more than 650,000 instances of reported identity theft... Read More

March 16, 2021

Identity Theft and Scams

A young couple sits in bed together looking at a laptop
Identity theft is a major problem. According to the Federal Trade... Read More

March 16, 2021

Identity Theft and Scams

Having your Social Security number or card stolen isn’t exa... Read More

March 16, 2021

Identity Theft and Scams

Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them. Compensation is not a factor in the substantive evaluation of any product.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team