1. Requests for personal information – No legitimate organization will ask for your social security, bank account or PIN number via e-mail and none will include a link, sending you to a form to enter it. No matter how authentic these e-mails may look, ignore ’em.
2. Watch for typos or spelling mistakes – Scam artists are street smart, but many flunked basic grammar or barely speak English. Look for mistakes like inappropriate hyphens or confusing “your” and “you’re.” If the note has multiple typos or grammatical errors, odds are it’s not legitimate.
3. Clickable web links in e-mails – Don’t trust links to web sites in e-mails. What might look like a legitimate address is often linked to a third-party site that looks official, but is actually run by thieves and scammers. These are the fast track to identity and financial theft.
4. Market research or surveys that ask you for personal information – Disguising scam e-mails as marketing is a classic ploy. You’ll be asked to fill out a survey or enter a contest, requiring you to give personal information or “log on” to your account. Once you’ve done so, the scammers can use it themselves.
5. Stock tips from random people or companies – Got a hot stock tip via e-mail? It’s probably a “pump and dump” scheme. The sender already owns shares, and when you and others act on the “tip,” the stock price soars and he sells fast, leaving you with virtually worthless shares.
6. Attachments in e-mails from anyone you don’t know – Don’t open an attachment from someone you don’t know, even if it appears to be your bank or credit card company. It’s almost always a virus or spyware meant to steal your personal information.
7. Wordless e-mails – Some legitimate looking e-mails are actually just images. The danger with these is that clicking anywhere in the body takes you to a suspect Web site where you may be fooled into entering personal information, or the scammer may slip spyware onto your machine.
8. Outdated information – Some scammers like to pose as technical or customer support from a company you associate with but fail to keep up with current events.
9. Red-flag phrases – If you see the phrases “verify your account,” “you have won the lottery,” or “if you don’t respond within XX hours, your account will be closed,” it’s a scam – every time. Hit the delete button, and don’t look back.
10. Generic greetings – While you can’t trust every e-mail that knows your name, you can definitely ignore the ones that start “Dear member” or “Hello friend.” If your bank or credit card company is writing you, it knows who you are. So do your friends.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rita Rocker is a national inspirational and educational speaker, communications and image specialist, and a career and virtual presentations coach with Transformation Academy, LLC. She is the author of “A Guide to Marketing Yourself for Success”, and a contributing author to “The Unstoppable Woman’s Guide to Emotional Well Being -The Total Woman in Leadership and Success Guide for the Unstoppable Entrepreneur.” She has appeared on national television and radio talk shows on self-esteem and communication. A former Mrs. Nebraska and active in numerous professional organizations, Rita is on the Board of the Small Business Association of the Midlands and co-director of greater Omaha’s Affiliated Women International. Rita provides life and career-transforming programs to mature teens and adults. Contact Rita at firstname.lastname@example.org.