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Consumer Publications List

E-Mail Scams

TO: You
SUBJECT: Make Million$ NOW!!...Lose 10 lbs. in 2 Days!...Be Your Own Boss...
MESSAGE: Don't believe it!

Don't believe everything you read in print–or in an e-mail. Con artists have discovered that e-mail is a fast and inexpensive way to trick people out of their money.

Some e-mail scams are easy to spot. Just like other "too good to be true"offers, they promise quick, easy ways to get rich, lose weight, get credit or find romantic partners. Without even opening them, you can delete e-mails sent to you by unfamiliar parties that have subject lines that USE ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, lots of exclamation points!!!, and dollar $ign$.

Other e-mail scams are harder to spot. Here are some recent examples:

Fake Disaster Relief Appeals
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, a fraudulent e-mail used the Red Cross logo and said "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, although it did collect money online through its Web site.

• 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.

"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.

• 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 "eBayCustomerHELP@eBay.com", which looked as if it came 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.

• 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 2002, 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.

• 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.

"Money from Overseas"
This scam has circulated in the United States for years, by mail, fax, and now e-mail. The e-mail comes from a person who says that he is a government official, a prince, or a commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Nigeria or some other country. The person states that he has discovered "excess funds" of some sort and wants to transfer the money to a U.S. bank account. If you help him, he promises to share some of the loot with you.

People lured into the scheme are asked to put up "good faith money" to prove they can be trusted, or to pay money for "transfer fees" or bribes to get the money out of the country. Also, the con artist asks for the victim's bank account number, which he or she can use to raid the account. Of course, no transferred money ever appears, and the victims lose thousands of dollars.

• Victims of this fraud scheme can contact the U.S. Secret Service, Financial Crimes Division, 950 H Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20001; telephone (202) 406-5850; website www.treas.gov/usss.

E-Mail Chain Letters
In February 2002, 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.

• 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.

How to Protect Yourself
The best advice is to delete e-mail offers you receive from unknown parties. If you have lost money to what you believe is an e-mail scam, contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at 410-528-8662 to discuss what options may be available to you.

Read more about e-mail scams and hoaxes at these Web sites:
Internet ScamBusters: www.scambusters.org
Federal Trade Commission: www.ftc.gov
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission: www.sec.gov/investor/pubs/cyberfraud.htm

 

Maryland Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division
Consumer hotline: (410) 528-8662 or 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free

 
 

Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372
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