The Top 10 Email Scams

What they are and how to protect yourself from them

Internet scams are nearly as old as the internet, and many have roots in cons that existed before the internet. Malware protection software doesn't help much with many of these types of scams. These scams rely on tricking the user, they don't deliver malicious software. So, some awareness of the most common scams can help you avoid them. Here are 10 to look out for.

Illustration of 10 internet and email scams like lottery, travel scams, and phishing
Theresa Chiechi​ @Lifewire

If you think you've 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 such as Citibank, eBay, or Paypal. Phishing scams frighten or entice you into clicking a link that delivers you to a phony web page, where you are prompted to enter your ID and password. The scammers then use that information 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. The destination site is secure if it begins with https://. Scam sites won't have the s. Also, look at the URL address domain. Is the link to a legitimate domain owned by the institution?

If you have doubts, 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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The Nigerian scam 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 to 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 today because it preys on people's emotions and willingness to help. To avoid it, 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. The scammers trick people into buying fake tickets to a sporting event or concert through a shady online marketplace or reseller. Usually, these scams 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, buy tickets from a trustworthy source. Purchase tickets directly from the venue 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. It's more lucrative to apply the fee to your credit balance and potentially collect interest on it. Scammers might also offer lower rates or higher credit limits, which can be tantalizing for people who have trouble qualifying for accounts.

To avoid these types of credit card scams, use common sense and never pay 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. These scams 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 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. If you didn't enter a lottery, you didn't win a lottery.

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Employment Search Email Scams

One businessperson sitting with paper models and feeling himself lonely

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You posted your resume online with 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 in your email, there's a chance it's a phishing attempt. Don't click 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.

To avoid this scam and still help those in need, contact recognized charitable organizations directly by phone or through their websites. Always research a charity using tools like Charity Navigator before handing over any 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 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, make you sit through a timeshare pitch at the destination. Others may 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 through an online service (for example, Travelocity and Expedia), 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 the link to take the survey, malicious software such as 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 less than what you paid (or they just take your cash and run).

Avoid these types of scams by ignoring the email or conducting research before participating. Check if the survey company 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.

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Ransomware Email Scams

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This type of phishing scam 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 pay them the money they're asking for, there's no guarantee they'll unlock your files. Some ransomware scams don't hack your computer, they make you believe they did.

To avoid ransomware scams, don't click links in emails you don't trust, and never run executable files in email links. Also, download a good anti-malware program and keep it updated.