E-mail Fraud

Avoiding e-mail 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.

E-mail fraud may be avoided by:

  • Keeping one's personal e-mail address as secret as possible. Use a throw-away email when signing up websites online.
  • Using a spam filter. If you do not forward your ONID email, ONID will protect you from as much spam as possible with SpamAssassin. For help on setting this up, go here
  • Ignoring unsolicited e-mails of all types, simply deleting them.
  • Not giving in to greed, since greed is often the element that allows one to be "hooked".

Many frauds go unreported to authorities, due to shame, guilty feelings or embarrassment, but if you ever fall victim to an e-mail fraud that involves theft, either monetary or of your identity, contact the authorities immediately. You could help save many people from the same problem.


Types of Fraudulent E-mail

Bogus Offers

One of the most prevalent types of email fraud comes of the form of offers that are too good to be true. The fraudulent offer typically features a popular item or service, at a drastically reduced price. Most of these are just an attempt to get your credit card information and if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Another type of bogus offer affects people who use Ebay, Craigslist, or any other online retailer for selling their belongings. The typical scam is that a person will contact you offering to pay the full amount, or even more for a rush delivery, but they refuse to pay you until they receive the item for inspection or some other reason.


Here are some examples:

Click here to view larger image.


What is phishing?

Phishing is an attempt by a person or organization to gain information such as usernames, passwords or credit card information. Once the unauthorized person gathers this information, they can use it to fraudulently purchase items on YOUR credit card, send real or spam e-mail from YOUR e-mail address, or sign up for services in YOUR name. Examples of phishing messages have been compiled to help you identify fake messages. The Phishing page on Wikipedia has more information if you are interested.

Why is phishing dangerous?

Aside from financial loss, phishing can also cost you time, as well as your identity. As said above, once you send your information to a phishing email, someone can start making charges to your name. Not only will you now owe for someone's else's expenditures, you also get to spend hours trying to cancel cards, reverse orders, and try to get your financial life back. This can be very taxing financially, and take a lot of your spare time.

You will also now have a flood of messages from services you've never used before. Accounts for forums, online retailers, lists, just about anything, can start being funneled to your email address. What's worse, the phisher can also spoof your account, and potentially get your account disabled for spamming.

What can I do to protect my personal identity and information?

  • NEVER give your password to ANYONE, including technical support personnel.
  • NEVER respond to spam messages (this validates your address to the spammer and your e-mail address will be FLOODED with SPAM).
  • Read the email critically and ask yourself some questions.
    • Does it make sense?
    • Is the capitalization, grammar, punctuation and sentence structure, correct?
    • Is the email too generic?
    • Why are they asking for my personally identifiable information over an unsecure method of communication, such as e-mail?
    • Why would the administrators of that system need my username, which they already know?
  • Never respond to an email requesting this information.
  • Forward suspicious emails to your support group or call the agency requesting the information; E.g. Bank of America, OSU Federal Credit Union, Computer Helpdesk, etc.
  • Never click on links or images in suspicious emails.
  • Abide by the OSU Acceptable Use Policy you signed, especially the section: "Accounts and passwords may not, under any circumstances, be shared with or used by persons other than the individual(s) to whom they have been assigned by the University."
  • Don't chat up scammers. Read a transcript from a real scam artist to gain further insight.
  • If you are still unsure what to do, contact your computer support group on campus.

What can I do to report a phishing attempt?

If you receive a phishing attempt and would like to report it, please select your email client from the following list for instructions on reporting a phishing attempt.

Phishing examples

Phishing e-mails can arrive in various forms. This page is designed to help you recognize some common features of these attacks.


Example 1:

Phishing example 1

1. Reply address is misspelled and to the wrong email domain

The reply email address will almost always be different from the person that appears to be sending the fraudulent e-mail. This is because the person trying to get your account information is hoping you will hit reply and not notice who the email is actually being sent to. If you did respond to one of these emails and realize it later you should change your password immediately.

2. ONID doesn't have anonymous registration

This is specific to just ONID accounts, but any e-mail address that required prior registration information from that organization is NOT "anonymous registration." No email service will ever send you an e-mail stating your account will be deleted unless you respond with account information! If you are unsure about the e-mail server you are using and think they may do something like this, either call or send a email directly to the support team e-mail that is on the website to ensure that it doesn't get sent to a fraudulent individual.

3. We will never ask you for your password, birthday, country, or GAP?.

No technical support or e-mail provider should ever ask for any personal information, especially passwords. If you have NOT contacted your e-mail or internet provider for help, be very suspicious of any email you receive claiming to be technical support, because tech support should not contact you unless you have asked for help.

4. Conflicting Information

Many times automated messages are created by pulling different sections of text out of a database and often times the information that gets pulled for the email has conflicting information. Of course both propositions of having your account disabled or deleted in 48 or 24 hours is scary and causes many people to act too quickly. ONID will notify you of account deletion or deactivation at least a couple weeks before anything is done. If an email gives you a deadline within hours or days the chances of it being a scam is greatly increased.

Example 2

Phishing Example 2

1. The from address is something other than the domain of your email address.

If you receive a legitimate email message from an administrator of your email the from address should always have the same domain as your email. For example if you receive something from ONID you know your ONID address is of the form "ONIDusername@oregonstate.edu"so the message should be from somebody@oregonstate.edu". This is a good first check to see if a message is real.

2. There is information in the email that is just wrong.

This is harder to recognize since you may not always know this information but if it looks wrong to you check it out. Usually information like this will be clearly listed on your email providers page and can easily be verified.

3. The message requests information such as username and password

No technical support group will EVER ask for this kind of information by email. If for some reason we need to have you update information we will send a message that simply asks you to go to ONID and sign in yourself to update it. Also be careful of messages that send you a link to update your information since the link doesn't always go where it says. It is always better to type in the address yourself rather than clicking a link!

Requests for Help

The "request for help" type of e-mail fraud takes this form. An e-mail is sent requesting help in some way, but including a reward for this help as a "hook," such as a large amount of money, a treasure, or some artifact of supposedly great value

The modern e-mail version of this scam, known variously as the "Nigerian scam", "Nigerian All-Stars," etc., because it is typically based in Nigeria, is an advance fee fraud. The lottery scam is a contemporary twist on this scam.

Responding to these emails cost someone money and loss of their identity, You can see stories of victims at http://www.google.com/news/search?aq=f&pz=1&cf=all&ned=us&hl=en&q=nigerian+scam.

Examples can be found at fraudgallery.com or you can view the thumbnails below for some basic examples.


E-mail 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. For more information, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-mail_spoofing

One very common example of spoofing is when people receive e-mails in their inbox saying that a message could not be delivered to a recipient, even though they do not remember sending that message. In this case, someone has learned what your email is and sent spam e-mails pretending to be from your address and the e-mail address was incorrect and sent a bounce message back to your e-mail address.

The thumbnails below show some examples of spoofed e-mail messages:

Click on image to view full size.

Click on image to view full size.