ever sat down to read your email, only to have your inbox filled with unwanted
solicitations? How about those with
subjects of ďEarn $1,000 today using your computer from homeĒ?
Sometimes itís easy to tell if the emailís you receive are deceitful
and sometimes itís not so easy. The
Federal Trade Commission has been busy looking into the most popular email
scams, and here are their top 12:
These business opportunities
make it sound easy to start a business that will bring lots of income without
much work or cash outlay. The solicitations trumpet unbelievable earnings claims
of $140 a day, $1,000 a day, or more, and claim that the business doesn't
involve selling, meetings, or personal contact with others, or that someone else
will do all the work. Many business opportunity solicitations claim to offer a
way to make money in an Internet-related business. Short on details but long on
promises, these messages usually offer a telephone number to call for more
information. In many cases, you'll be told to leave your name and telephone
number so that a salesperson can call you back with the sales pitch.
The scam: Many of these are
illegal pyramid schemes masquerading as legitimate opportunities to earn money.
2. Bulk email
Bulk email solicitations
offer to sell you lists of email addresses, by the millions, to which you can
send your own bulk solicitations. Some offer software that automates the sending
of email messages to thousands or millions of recipients. Others offer the
service of sending bulk email solicitations on your behalf. Some of these offers
say, or imply, that you can make a lot of money using this marketing method.
The problem: Sending bulk
email violates the terms of service of most Internet service providers. If you
use one of the automated email programs, your ISP may shut you down. In
addition, inserting a false return address into your solicitations, as some of
the automated programs allow you to do, may land you in legal hot water with the
owner of the address's domain name. Several states have laws regulating the
sending of unsolicited commercial email, which you may unwittingly violate by
sending bulk email. Few legitimate businesses, if any, engage in bulk email
marketing for fear of offending potential customers.
3. Chain letters
You're asked to send a small
amount of money ($5 to $20) to each of four or five names on a list, replace one
of the names on the list with your own, and then forward the revised message via
bulk email. The letter may claim that the scheme is legal, that it's been
reviewed or approved by the government; or it may refer to sections of U.S. law
that legitimize the scheme. Don't believe it.
The scam: Chain letters -
traditional or high-tech - are almost always illegal, and nearly all of the
people who participate in them lose their money. The fact that a
"product" such as a report on how to make money fast, a mailing list,
or a recipe may be changing hands in the transaction does not change the
legality of these schemes.
solicitations promise steady income for minimal labor - for example, you'll earn
$2 each time you fold a brochure and seal it in an envelope. Craft assembly work
schemes often require an investment of hundreds of dollars in equipment or
supplies, and many hours of your time producing goods for a company that has
promised to buy them.
The scam: You'll pay a small
fee to get started in the envelope-stuffing business. Then, you'll learn that
the email sender never had real employment to offer. Instead, you'll get
instructions on how to send the same envelope-stuffing ad in your own bulk
emailings. If you earn any money, it will be from others who fall for the scheme
you're perpetuating. And after spending the money and putting in the time on the
craft assembly work, you are likely to find promoters who refuse to pay you,
claiming that your work isn't up to their "quality standards."
5. Health and
Pills that let you lose
weight without exercising or changing your diet, herbal formulas that liquefy
your fat cells so that they are absorbed by your body, and cures for impotence
and hair loss are among the scams flooding email boxes.
The scam: These gimmicks
don't work. The fact is that successful weight loss requires a reduction in
calories and an increase in physical activity. Beware of case histories from
"cured" consumers claiming amazing results; testimonials from
"famous" medical experts you've never heard of; claims that the
product is available from only one source or for a limited time; and ads that
use phrases like "scientific breakthrough," "miraculous
cure," "exclusive product," "secret formula," and
The trendiest get-rich-quick
schemes offer unlimited profits exchanging money on world currency markets;
newsletters describing a variety of easy-money opportunities; the perfect sales
letter; and the secret to making $4,000 in one day.
The scam: If these systems
worked, wouldn't everyone be using them? The thought of easy money may be
appealing, but success generally requires hard work.
7. Free goods
Some email messages offer
valuable goods - for example, computers, other electronic items, and
long-distance phone cards - for free. You're asked to pay a fee to join a club,
and then told that to earn the offered goods, you have to bring in a certain
number of participants. You're paying for the right to earn income by recruiting
other participants, but your payoff is in goods, not money.
The scam: Most of these
messages are covering up pyramid schemes, operations that inevitably collapse.
Almost the entire payoff goes to the promoters and little or none to consumers
who pay to participate.
Investment schemes promise
outrageously high rates of return with no risk. One version seeks investors to
help form an offshore bank. Others are vague about the nature of the investment,
stressing the rates of return. Many are Ponzi schemes, in which early investors
are paid off with money contributed by later investors. This makes the early
investors believe that the system actually works, and encourages them to invest
Promoters of fraudulent
investments often operate a particular scam for a short time, quickly spend the
money they take in, and then close down before they can be detected. Often, they
reopen under another name, selling another investment scam. In their sales
pitch, they'll say that they have high-level financial connections; that they're
privy to inside information; that they'll guarantee the investment; or that
they'll buy back the investment after a certain time. To close the deal, they
often serve up phony statistics, misrepresent the significance of a current
event, or stress the unique quality of their offering-anything to deter you from
verifying their story.
The scam: Ponzi schemes
eventually collapse because there isn't enough money coming in to continue
simulating earnings. Other schemes are a good investment for the promoters, but
not for participants.
For a small sum of money,
you can buy a kit to assemble a cable descrambler that supposedly allows you to
receive cable television transmissions without paying any subscription fee.
The scam: The device that
you build probably won't work. Most of the cable TV systems in the
loans or credit, on easy terms
Some email messages offer
home-equity loans that don't require equity in your home, as well as
solicitations for guaranteed, unsecured credit cards, regardless of your credit
history. Usually, these are said to be offered by offshore banks. Sometimes they
are combined with pyramid schemes, which offer you an opportunity to make money
by attracting new participants to the scheme.
The scams: The home equity
loans turn out to be useless lists of lenders who will turn you down if you
don't meet their qualifications. The promised credit cards never come through,
and the pyramid money-making schemes always collapse.
11. Credit repair
Credit repair scams offer to
erase accurate negative information from your credit file so you can qualify for
a credit card, auto loan, home mortgage, or a job.
The scam: The scam artists
who promote these services can't deliver. Only time, a deliberate effort, and a
personal debt repayment plan will improve your credit. The companies that
advertise credit repair services appeal to consumers with poor credit histories.
Not only can't they provide you with a clean credit record, but they also may be
encouraging you to violate federal law. If you follow their advice by lying on a
loan or credit application, misrepresenting your Social Security number, or
getting an Employer Identification Number from the Internal Revenue Service
under false pretenses, you will be committing fraud.
congratulating you on "winning" a fabulous vacation for a very
attractive price are among the scams arriving in your email. Some say you have
been "specially selected" for this opportunity.
The scam: Most unsolicited
commercial email goes to thousands or millions of recipients at a time. Often,
the cruise ship you're booked on may look more like a tug boat. The hotel
accommodations likely are shabby, and you may be required to pay more for an
upgrade. Scheduling the vacation at the time you want it also may require an
hundreds of scams circulating right now, so if you get one thatís not on this
list, you should still be suspicious. You
may be wondering how these scammers get your email address in the first place.
There are several ways. Businesses
often keep lists of their customersí email addresses.
Although most businesses treat your email address as a prized possession
and would never consider selling, others canít fight the temptation to make a
quick buck and sell or rent their email list to outside advertisers.
Also, some companies donít keep their lists secure enough and hackers
sneak in and steal their lists. There
are computer programs called random address generators that try to guess email
addresses. Because it costs nothing
to send an email to an address that doesnít exist, they go ahead and try.
Sometimes they guess right and the result is their scams getting through.
Other scammers visit chat rooms to harvest email addresses.
Itís easy to figure out that that the visitor ny152 chatting on AOL has
an email address of email@example.com.
Is your email address listed anywhere on a webpage?
If it is, there are web spiders searching it out right now.
Web spiders ďcrawlĒ around all the pages on the Internet just like
search engines only they capture email addresses as opposed to webpage titles
August 24, 2002
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