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how to identify a scam email

How to Identify a Scam Email or Phone Call (& How to Have Fun With It)

How to Identify a Scam Email: Exhibit A

My dad got an email a few days ago. It looked like this:

From: John Maryline []

Sent: Friday, February 16, 2018 1:21 PM

Subject: Your ATM Cards Released..

Attention: This is to inform you that we have agreed to release your fund valued at USD $5.8 Million which will come to you via ATM Cards. Please do re-confirm your information as below to avoid wrong delivery. Forward your information to the delivery office here: and instruct them to send the card to you immediately.

Full Name (Receiver):_____,

Country of Resident: ______,

Office/Home Street Address: _____,

Nearest Airport: _____,

Mobile Phone Number: _____,

Identification papers (Passport copy or ID card) which you will present it before delivery is made: _____

Thank you for understanding and may God bless you.

Yours faithfully,

Mr. Mark James


My dad sent Mr. Mark James / Mr. Maryline (did you notice that the top of the email identifies the sender as one and the signature line is that of the other?) the requested information and then forwarded the email to his entire company telling them that he quit.

No, My Dad is Not Really an Idiot

My dad really did send the email to his company, but everyone knew he was kidding. And no, he didn’t really reply to the email he received from Mr. Mark James / Mr. Maryline.

You may also be interested in, “Scams Against Seniors

It Doesn’t Take an Idiot

There’s a sucker born every minute, as the saying goes, but good, smart people are fooled every day. Want to know how to identify a scam email? You should definitely learn. Why? A 2011 Federal Trade Commission survey about online fraud found that 25 million people are affected by scams each year.

Instances of fraud among the elderly are especially rampant and the last thing you should do it if your elderly parent or grandparent falls for one is to blame or shame them.

25 million people are affected by scams each year

Shame on You, not Them

Sid Kirchheimer, writing for AARP, interviewed Anthony Pratkanis, a social psychologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Pratkanis noted “when protectors take over finances or lecture parents about their mistake, it plays right into the scammers’ hands by threatening the target’s independence.” In other words, as Pratkanis said, “[f]or scam victims to admit they were wrong means they’re stupid and unable to take care of themselves.”

Some scams are harder to detect than others, and some perpetrators are expert at what they do.

Instead, take a look in the mirror because there are things you can to do protect them ahead of time from fraudulent scams. For example, as Kirchheimer counsels in his excellent article:

  1. Don’t just tell them to hang up or throw out the letter. Have a talk about why.
  2. Try some reverse psychology. “If you become aware that an aged parent is playing a sweepstakes or making a ‘double your money’ investment, ask how you can do the same. Psychologists say this tactic sometimes prompts a warning — your parent doesn’t want you to lose money, too. That’s your cue to ask, ‘Then why do you do it?’ This could start a conversation that helps the parent come to terms with the scam.”
  3. Consider setting up online access to their bank and credit card accounts and check their credit report regularly. It’s generally easier to fix problems when you discover them sooner.
If someone you care about falls victim you or they can call the AARP Fraud Fighter Call Center at 800-646-2283. You message will probably be returned within 48 hours.

You may also be interested in, “Protect Your Money: Learn from Damage Repair Scam Victims

Red flags Are There to Get your Attention

Some scams are harder to detect than others, and some perpetrators are expert at what they do. Still, some red flags make some scams are pretty obvious. For example:

1. Emails or calls that ask you for personal information.  

Computer help desks do not monitor your computer and then call you to tell you something is wrong while asking you to read information from your computer screen.

Banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions do not email you asking you to sign into your account using a link contained in the email  If you ever get an email like the one below, for example, you can be sure it is not really from Bank of America.

how to identify a scam email

Emails that purport to be from a company, by the way, never come from senders whose email addresses do not end with the name of the company. The one above, for example, was sent by someone using a email address. Learning how to identify a scam email takes practice, but some are easier to spot than others. For example, Bank of America can afford a custom email domain and will not send emails from domains such as Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, or AOL.

Use a site like or to find out who owns what domain name. Companies with domains ending in “.edu” or “.gov” are usually much more reliable than those ending in “.com,” “.org,” and “.net”.

2. Bad grammer grammar.

Emails written with typos or bad grammar are most likely fraud. And if you’re buying products online, check the grammar on the seller’s product listings. Grammatical errors on product listings is a good sign that English isn’t the seller’s first language. While not all international sellers are scammers, be cautious and do a background check on the seller to confirm that they’re not selling you any counterfeit goods. If you want to know how to identify a scam email, start with a quick grammar check.

3. Emails with big promises.

If a company emails you promising “big winnings” like a free trip to Fiji, or a free iPad and other electronics if you “enter your email and password so we can send you further information on how to collect your prize,” it is a scam.

The Secret Service Weighs In

The Secret Service offers these tips for determining telemarketing fraud:

  1. High-pressure sales tactics
  2. Insistence on an immediate decision.
  3. The offer sounds too good to be true.
  4. A request for your credit card number for any purpose other than to make a purchase.
  5. An offer to send someone to your home or office to pick up the money or some other method such as overnight mail to get your funds more quickly.
  6. A statement that something is “free,” followed by a requirement that you pay for something.
  7. An investment that is “without risk.”
  8. Unwillingness to provide written information or references (such as a bank or names of satisfied customers in your area) that you can contact.
  9. A suggestion that you should make a purchase or investment on the basis of “trust.”

You may also be interested in, “Watch Out for Investment Scams”

Be Part of the Solution

If you receive a phone call or email that you think is a scam and if you have a few extra minutes, you may want to check out one or more of these resources:

  •  – Great general resource for those who want to learn more about these scams generally, and how to fight them.
  • Kitboga-  Fun YouTuber who wastes the time of scammers.
  • Rescam–  If you get an email you think is a scam, just send forward it to Rescam by sending it to Rescam uses artificial intelligence intelligence to start a long, drawn out email conversation with the scammer, to waste her or his time.
  • The National Do Not Call Registry– The National Do Not Call Registry is managed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency. Go here and legitimate phone solicitors should stop calling you. This will not, however, stop scammers.
  • There are also paid and unpaid services (including apps) that you can get.  Examples include Hiya Caller ID, Nomorobo Robocall Blocking, and RoboKiller.

In the end, if don’t know how to identify a scam email or if you fall for a scam, don’t beat yourself up. Seek help immediately.

Think twice before sharing your personal information with anyone or clicking on any attachment to any email you may receive.

The best way to avoid being scammed is to use common sense. For example, think twice (or three times) before sharing your personal information with anyone or clicking on any attachment to any email you may receive. More generally, consider freezing your credit and using credit monitoring and identity protection services; use very strong, long (and different) passwords on each of your financial accounts; and, when it comes to inbound calls or emails, follow that old rule: don’t talk to strangers.

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About Sophie Friedland

A passionate environmentalist and animal rights' advocate, Sophie Friedland is dedicated to the idea that furthering these imperatives and being financially successful are not mutually exclusive. A college Freshman at the time of her first submission to Financial Poise, Sophie is Financial Poise's youngest-ever contributor.

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  • Sybil Schechter-Kelly says:

    Great information .. Thanks

  • Cristina+Nolan says:

    These are outstanding tips! This article should be shared with those who work with the elderly. They are so vulnerable and often fall prey to these kinds of scammers.

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