Office of Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr.

April 23, 2002 Media Inquiries: Sean Caine 410-576-6357


Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. is warning Marylanders to be on the lookout for suspicious e-mails. Consumers have contacted the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division about e-mails that appear to be attempts to induce people into revealing sensitive information, or simply schemes that rip off unsuspecting consumers.

One particularly troubling e-mail message received by a Maryland woman last week pretended to tout a new Web site for Philadelphia Phillies fans. It ended with: "If you would like to be removed from this mailing list please click reply and include your name, address, Social Security # and date of birth so we can verify your identity." The message was supposedly sent by the Web site However, that Web site has posted on its home page a warning that a scam artist has falsely posed as and that the Web site did not send out such an e-mail message.

"Never give personal information such as your Social Security Number, date of birth, or bank account or credit card numbers in response to an e-mail from an unknown source," Curran said.

Curran also said his office continues to receive complaints about e-mail messages offering consumers a share of money transferred from overseas accounts. This scam has circulated in the United States for years, by mail, fax and now e-mail. The message comes from a person who says that he is a government official or commander in chief of the armed forces of another country, usually in Africa. The person states that he has discovered "excess funds" and wants to transfer the money to a U.S. bank account. If the e-mail recipient will agree to help, he promises to share some of the loot. People lured into the scheme are asked to put up "good faith money" to prove they can be trusted, and to supply their bank account number. No transferred money ever appears and victims have lost thousands of dollars.

In the Attorney General's latest Consumer's Edge newsletter, he also advises about these recent e-mail scams:

"Internet account updates": Many America Online customers received an e-mail that appeared to be from the company, which said that "the credit card you signed up with is invalid or expired and the information needs to be reentered to keep your account active." America Online did not send the e-mail. It was a scam designed to gather people's credit card numbers.

Curran's advice: If you get a message like this, don't reply or provide any information until after you have checked with your Internet service provider at the phone number or e-mail address you have on record for the company. Con artists can create "From" e-mail addresses that look legitimate, so don't automatically hit the "reply" button.

Phony "order confirmations": Many people received an e-mail that stated: "Your purchase will be shipped to your customer billing address within the next two to three business days. If you feel that you have received this e-mail in error and did not purchase anything, go to our order cancellation page and fill out the proper information to cancel the order." The e-mail was from "", and appeared to come from the eBay auction site. However, the e-mail was not from eBay, and the people who received it had not purchased anything at eBay.

Curran's advice: If you know you didn't buy anything online, ignore e-mails like this. They are merely scams designed to trick people into supplying personal information on the phony "order cancellation" form.

"Black inheritance tax refund": In January, some Marylanders received an e-mail that said that African-Americans were eligible for a "Black Inheritance Tax Refund" as a reparation for slavery. The e-mail instructed the consumer to call for a packet of information on how to receive the refund, and to forward the message to their friends and family.

Curran's advice: There is no such tax refund. The Internal Revenue Service is warning consumers about con artists who deceive people into paying for advice on how to file these false claims. Consumers with questions can call the IRS toll-free help line at 1-800-829-1040.

Fake disaster relief appeals: After the terrorist attacks of September 11, a fraudulent e-mail used the Red Cross logo and the plea "your support is needed." It asked donors to give their names and credit card numbers to make donations. The Red Cross does not solicit donations by e-mail.

Curran's advice: When considering donating to a charity through the Internet, make sure you know with whom you are dealing. Con artists can create e-mail addresses and Web sites that look similar to well-known, established charities. If in doubt, contact the charity to which you wish to donate by telephone. You can also check out charities by calling the Maryland Secretary of State's office at (410) 974-5534.

E-mail chain letters: In February, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission cracked down on an Internet chain letter that promised people they would receive "$46,000 or more in the next 90 days." People who received the message were told to send $5 to each of four or five other participants at the top of the list and add their own name to the list.
Curran's advice: All chain letters that promise a reward, whether sent by mail or e-mail, are illegal. They are nothing more than "pyramid schemes" that lose money for most participants. If you start a "money-making" chain e-mail or forward one, you are breaking the law and can be prosecuted.

Curran says his best advice is to delete e-mail offers from unknown parties. Consumers who have lost money to e-mail scams can contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at 410-528-8662 to discuss what options may be available.