Email fraud (or email scam) is intentional deception for either personal gain or to damage another individual by means of email. Almost as soon as email became widely used, it began to be used as a means to defraud people. Email fraud can take the form of a "con game", or scam. Confidence tricks tend to exploit the inherent greed and dishonesty of its victims. The prospect of a 'bargain' or 'something for nothing' can be very tempting. Email fraud, as with other 'bunco schemes,' usually targets naive individuals who put their confidence in schemes to get rich quickly. These include 'too good to be true' investments or offers to sell popular items at 'impossibly low' prices. Many people have lost their life savings due to fraud.



Main article: Email spoofing

Email sent from someone pretending to be someone else is known as spoofing. Spoofing may take place in a number of ways. Common to all of them is that the actual sender's name and the origin of the message are concealed or masked from the recipient. Many instances of email fraud use at least spoofing, and as most frauds are clearly criminal acts, criminals typically try to avoid easy traceability.


Main article: Phishing

Phishing is a type of social engineering where an attacker sends a fraudulent (e.g., spoofed, fake, or otherwise deceptive) message designed to trick a person into revealing sensitive information to the attacker[1][2] or to deploy malicious software on the victim's infrastructure such as ransomware. Some spoof messages purport to be from an existing company, perhaps one with which the intended victim already has a business relationship. The 'bait' in this instance may appear to be a message from "the fraud department" of, for example, the victim's bank, which asks the customer to: "confirm their information"; "log in to their account"; "create a new password", or similar requests. Instead of being directed to the website they trust, they are referred to an identical looking page with a different URL. After entering their log-in details, their username and password is visible to the perpetrators. In many cases, phishing emails can appear to be benign - for example, a message prompting the receiver that they have a new friend request on a social media platform. Regardless of how innocent the message is in itself, it will always lead the victim to an imitation web page and false log-in prompt.

Bogus offers

Email solicitations to purchase goods or services may be instances of attempted fraud. The fraudulent offer typically features a popular item or service, at a drastically reduced price.

Items may be offered in advance of their actual availability. For instance, the latest video game may be offered prior to its release, but at a similar price to a normal sale. In this case, the "greed factor" is the desire to get something that nobody else has, and before everyone else can get it, rather than a reduction in price. Of course, the item is never delivered, as it was not a legitimate offer in the first place.

Such an offer may even be no more than a phishing attempt to obtain the victim's credit card information, with the intent of using the information to fraudulently obtain goods or services, paid for by the hapless victim, who may not know they were scammed until their credit card has been "used up."

Requests for help

The "request for help" type of email fraud takes this form: an email is sent requesting help in some way. However, a reward is included for this help, which acts as a "hook". The reward may be a large amount of money, a treasure, or some artifact of supposedly great value.

This type of scam has existed at least since the Renaissance, known as the "Spanish Prisoner" or "Turkish Prisoner" scam. In its original form, this scheme has the con man purport to be in correspondence with a wealthy person who has been imprisoned under a false identity and is relying on the confidence artist to raise money to secure his release. The con man tells the "mark" (victim) that he is "allowed" to supply money, for which he should expect a generous reward when the prisoner returns. The confidence artist claims to have chosen the victim for their reputation for honesty.


Avoiding email fraud

Due to the widespread use of web bugs in email, simply opening an email can potentially alert the sender that the address to which the email is sent is a valid address. This can also happen when the mail is 'reported' as spam, in some cases: if the email is forwarded for inspection, and opened, the sender will be notified in the same way as if the addressee opened it.

Email fraud may be avoided by:

Many frauds go unreported to authorities, due to feelings of shame, guilt, or embarrassment.

See also


  1. ^ Jansson, K.; von Solms, R. (2011-11-09). "Phishing for phishing awareness". Behaviour & Information Technology. 32 (6): 584–593. doi:10.1080/0144929X.2011.632650. ISSN 0144-929X. S2CID 5472217.
  2. ^ Fatima, Rubia; Yasin, Affan; Liu, Lin; Wang, Jianmin (2019-10-11). "How persuasive is a phishing email? A phishing game for phishing awareness". Journal of Computer Security. 27 (6): 581–612. doi:10.3233/JCS-181253.
  3. ^ "New E-Scams & Warnings. FBI". Retrieved 2012-02-18.
  4. ^ "Hitman Bribe Scam". Retrieved 2012-02-18.
  5. ^ "Top 10 Phish Scams". McAfee. 2006-09-01. Retrieved 2006-09-01.
  6. ^ "Internet Crime Complaint Center's Scam Alerts". 2012-10-23. Retrieved 2013-12-22.
  7. ^ "Internet Crime Complaint Center's (IC3) – Scam Alerts". October 17, 2011. Retrieved October 26, 2011.