The Top 10 Email Scams

What they are and how to protect yourself from them

Illustration of 10 internet and email scams like lottery, travel scams, and phishing

Lifewire / Theresa Chiechi​

Internet scams are nearly as old as the internet itself, and many have roots in cons that existed well before the internet. Unfortunately, malware protection software doesn't help much with many of these types of scams, because they rely on tricking the user, not delivering malicious software. So, some awareness of the most common scams can help you avoid them. Here are ten to look out for.

If you think you've already fallen victim to an email scam, we have a guide on what to do next.

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Phishing Email Scams

Hand coming out of a monitor and unlocking a computer with a key

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One of the most widespread internet scams, a "phishing" email lures you into divulging your login credentials—your username and password—by resembling legitimate correspondence from companies like Citibank, eBay, or Paypal. They frighten or entice you into clicking on a link that delivers you to a phony web page, where you can enter your ID and password. The scammers then use that info to access your account.

To avoid this type of scam, always be wary of links in emails. You can check a link's legitimacy by looking at its URL address. You'll know the destination site is secure if it begins with "https://." Scam sites won't have the "s." Also, look at the URL addresses domain. Is the link sending you to a legitimate domain owned by the institution?

If you still have doubts, you can contact the financial institution to verify if the email is real.

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Nigerian Email Scams

Magnifying glass showing a spam folder

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Most people have heard of the Nigerian scam. It involves an email from an alleged member of a wealthy Nigerian family. They desperately need help getting a very large sum of money out of the country. All you need do is cover the endless “legal expenses” and other “fees” that must be paid to the authorities that can release the fictional fortune. Once the money's freed up, they'll give you a cut.

This scam isn't new. It dates back to the 1920s, when it was known as "The Spanish Prisoner" con. But, it's still effective even today because it preys on people's emotions and willingness to help. There's an easy way to avoid it, though. Just ignore the email and delete it.

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Ticket Email Scams

Hand holding a ticket

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Ticket scams are another popular type of online fraud. Nearly 400 cases were reported to the Better Business Bureau in 2018 alone. The scammers trick people into buying fake tickets to a sporting event or concert via a shady online marketplace or reseller. Usually, they target a high-profile event like the Super Bowl or the Stanley Cup playoffs, capitalizing on the increased demand.

To avoid falling victim to this fraud, always make sure you're buying tickets from a trustworthy source. Purchase them directly from the venue itself whenever possible. Use a payment method that comes with protection, like a credit card. You can also check out the seller on or

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Credit Card Email Scams

Credit card concept,Credit card payment
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If you're thinking about applying for a “pre-approved” loan or a credit card that charges an upfront fee, ask yourself, “Why would a bank do that?” Reputable credit card companies may charge an annual fee, but it's never upfront After all, it's more lucrative to apply the fee to your credit balance and potentially collect interest on it. Scammers might also offer lowered rates or high credit limits, which can be tantalizing for people who have trouble qualifying for accounts.

You can usually avoid these types of credit card scams by using common sense and never paying an upfront fee for a credit card or loan. If you want to apply for a line of credit, go directly to a reputable company's website to fill out an application.

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Foreign Lottery Email Scams

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Foreign lottery scams are common. They want you to believe you've won a large amount of money. You receive what looks like an official email from a foreign lottery organization. The sender wants your personal information so they can send you your winnings. But, it's all nothing more than a phishing attempt that can potentially leave you with a stolen identity or depleted bank account.

The best way to avoid this scam is to ignore it. Remember: if you didn't enter a lottery, you didn't win a lottery.

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Employment Search Email Scams

One businessman sitting with paper models and feeling himself lonely

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You posted your resume online with at least some personal data accessible by potential employers, on a legitimate employment site. You receive a job offer to become a "financial representative" of an overseas company you never heard of before. The company says it wants to hire you because it has problems accepting money from U.S. customers and it needs you to handle those payments. You'll get a commission per transaction. But, the scammers want you to give them your personal data, such as bank account information, so you can “get paid.” Instead, you wind up with a stolen identity, an empty bank account, or fake checks and money orders you're now on the hook for.

Like many scams on this list, a healthy dose of skepticism can prevent you from falling victim. Ignore these "too good to be true" job offers.

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Disaster Relief Email Scams

Disaster Relief check

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What do 9-11, the Tohoku Tsunami, and Katrina have in common? These are disasters in which people died or lost everything. In times like these, good people pull together to help the survivors, including through online donations. This is also the time scammers set up fake charity websites to steal money intended for victims.

If you receive a donation request via email, there's a chance it's a phishing attempt. Don't click on any links in the email or provide any bank account or credit card information. Another sign a charity email is fake is if it asks for donations in cash, gift cards, or money transfers.

You can avoid this scam and still help those in need by contacting recognized charitable organizations directly by phone or through their websites. Always research a charity using tools like Charity Navigator before handing over your money.

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Travel Email Scams

Sparschwein an tropischem Strand

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These scams are most active during the summer months. You receive an email with an offer to get amazingly low fares to some exotic destination, but you must book it immediately or the offer expires. If you call, you’ll find out the travel is free but the hotel rates are highly overpriced. Some offer you rock-bottom prices but hide certain high fees until you “sign on the dotted line.” Others, in order to give you the freebie, will make you sit through a timeshare pitch at the destination. Still, others may just take your money and deliver nothing. Getting a refund, should you decide to cancel, is usually impossible.

Book your trip in person at a reputable travel agency, or via an online service (Travelocity, Expedia, etc.), to avoid this type of fraud.

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Survey Email Scams

Quality Survey Information

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Someone sends you a survey about an issue you're passionate about, like global warming or gun control. But, you never specifically requested to partake in a survey or join the survey's mailing list. That email is likely spam. When you click on the link to take the survey, malicious software like spyware or malware is installed on your PC, leaving your personal information vulnerable to hackers. Other survey scams ask you to pay money upfront before compensating you for your input. But the money they offer is far less than what you paid (or they just take your cash and run).

Avoid these types of scams by ignoring the emails or conducting research before participating. Check if the survey company in question has a privacy policy. If you can't find one, assume it's a fraud. Online survey communities like Survey Police can help determine if an email is legitimate as well.

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Ransomware Email Scams

Macbook with ransomware background

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This type of phishing scam is especially insidious. It tricks you into installing ransomware on your computer that hijacks your files. The hacker says they'll give you access again if you pay them. And if you actually pay them the money they're asking for, there's no guarantee they'll actually unlock your files. Some ransomware scams don't actually hack your computer, they just make you believe they did.

You can avoid ransomware scams by not clicking on links in emails you don't trust. Never run executable files in email links as well. Also, download a good anti-malware program and keep it updated.