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Sweepstakes winner? Lose 30 pounds in 30 days? Money from Nigeria? Watch out for email scams

Success has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself.  It’s what you do for others.— Danny Thomas, American comedian and television personality.

The web site of Douglas F. Gansler, current Attorney General of Maryland (www.oag.state.md.us), is an absolute treasure trove of consumer protection information.  Today, Senior Moments shares with you the Attorney General’s advice and cautions concerning e-mail scams.

Sure, it can be exciting when you receive an e-mail and, in the subject line, it indicates that you have won a sweepstakes worth thousands of dollars, or that you can lose 10 pounds in 2 days,  or that somebody in Nigeria is anxious to send you a million dollars.  Unfortunately, being smart is not enough to protect you from dangerous internet scams.

Con artists (often much better computer experts than we are!) have discovered that e-mail is a fast and inexpensive way to trick people out of their money.  Please don’t believe everything you read in an e-mail.  The Attorney General’s office suggests that, without even opening them, you delete e-mails sent to you by unfamiliar persons that have subject lines that USE ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, lots of exclamation points!!!!!, and dollar $ign$.  These e-mail scams are reasy to spot, just like all “too good to be true” offers.

Other e-mail scams are harder to spot, but here are some examples:

Called “money from overseas,” this scam has circulated in the United States for years, by mail, fax and now e-mail.  The message 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, rightfully belonging to his family, and he wants to transfer the money to a U.S. bank account so that it will be protected.  If you help him, he promises to share some of the loot with you.

People lured into this 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.  The Con artist asks for the victim’s bank account number in order to transfer the funds.  Of course, no transferred money ever appears, but the account number is used to raid the account and the victims lose thousands of dollars.

The infamous “lottery scam” has been the ruin of many otherwise intelligent folks.  Lottery scam letters are sent by email, regular post, Federal Express, DHL, UPS, etc.  All available delivery methods are used.  In the US, the letters – along with the envelope they came in, regardless of the delivery method – should be taken to the nearest Post Office, ATTN: US Postal Inspector.

The documents look oh-so-real, but they are not.  Using a computer graphics program, a person can create any kind of document whatsoever.  Please remember that unless you can DIRECTLY contact the registered lottery company itself, not some agent, not some fellow on a cell phone, not some person in a country where the lottery is not registered with the proper officials, watch out!

Always remember, it’s not who wrote the letter or e-mail that makes it a scam, it’s what the letter SAYS that makes it a scam.  It is a scam if you did not buy a ticket. You must buy a ticket to win a lottery.  It’s a scam if you can’t find the lottery name on Google unless you find it on sites listing scam e-mails.  It’s a scam if the lottery name is a company, like Microsoft.  Lotteries are not sponsored by merchants except through a Sweepstakes.

The letter or e-mail is a lottery scam if you do not live in the lottery country and you are not a citizen of the lottery country.  Most lotteries are only open to residents of the country, state or province in which the game is played.  It is illegal for United States citizens to participate in foreign lotteries.

Other email scams include fake disaster relief appeals.  After hurricanes, earthquakes, and even the September 11th attacks, crooks seek to cash in on the tragedies and devastation.  The scams include bogus charities and non-existent contractors, and phony links that try to trick you into giving away confidential information.  After 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.  Con artists can create e-mail addresses and Web sites that look very similar to well-known, established charities.

This column is not even a start on all the scams being used today.  How can you protect yourself?  The best advice is to delete e-mail offers you receive from parties unknown to you.  If you have already lost money to what you believe is an e-mail scam, contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, 410-528-8662, to discuss options available to you.  For more information, check out www.scambusters.org.

Thank you for reading.  Stay well.  See you next week.

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