Most of us get spam trying to sell us things, most commonly prescriptions, cheap mortgage rates, online gambling and other, more “adult” topics. Most of us just delete them or hit the “spam” button and move on. There are some other types of spam that are a little more serious, however.
One well-known example, circulating for years now, is the Nigerian bank scam. The sender, allegedly the wife or relative of a former dictator or government official (usually in Nigeria, hence the name) tells the sad story of how millions were deposited in a bank account which is no longer accessible. In exchange for your help, they’re willing to share this wealth – for a few mere thousands from your bank account for ‘expenses’. As ludicrous as it seems, people fall for this every year. In one well-publicized case an elderly Czech man who had lost his life savings to this scam shot the Nigerian consul in Prague.
Another fairly common scam is investments with extraordinary returns. They’ll claim to be risk-free but this is obviously not the case. Once you send them your initial investment, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever hear from them again, unless it’s to ask for more money.
Remember these offers are worse than even ordinary spam. Legitimate businesses do not promote their products by spamming. They e-mail selected groups, generally those who have purchased from them before or voluntarily offered an e-mail address. Other offers should usually be ignored. Simply hit your delete button. However, even highlighting the e-mail in order to delete it can signal a spammer that you received one.
How To Avoid Getting Scammed
First, never reply to spam. This just tells the spammer that your email is in fact valid and the amount of spam you’ll receive will quickly multiply. Some spam will even include a link at the bottom for removing yourself from their list. If it’s a true spam email, don’t use this – it just confirms your email address as well. If you did sign up to receive the email however, this is a legitimate way of removing yourself from future mailings.
And above all else, never give any private information like credit card numbers or bank account information via email. Companies like Paypal or your bank will never ask for your username and password in an email message.
How do you know whether it’s spam? Since, one man’s spam is sometimes another’s welcomed advertisement, there’s no perfect answer. But there is one good rule of thumb: if you don’t recognize the sender, it’s probably not someone you want to hear from. After all, how many former dictators in Nigeria are you likely to know?