Falling for an email scam is so easily done. Many if not most people have seen a genuine-looking email or social media post and had to do a double-take to realise it is not genuine.

With many businesses relying on remote working and distance communications, many businesses and office staff are at risk of falling victim to potentially disruptive scams and security breaches.

The best way to improve email safety for your business is to educate and build up a knowledge base for all of your employees, both in-person and remote, to ensure they do not fall victim to scams that can affect them personally and affect your business.

Here are some of the most famous email scams in history and what we can learn from them.


Imitation And Spoof Emails

One of the most common and most basic email scams involves imitation, typically requesting the recipient to click a link on the email or download a file to solve some urgent issue or benefit from a discount.

Said file of course contains a virus that can either take down a computer, ransom data or computer use for a fee or some other request, or harvest data to use as part of other criminal activity.

This is a classic example of social engineering, or phishing, where an email will look authentic but instead be used for sinister ends.

The key lesson to learn is to always look twice at any email that is suspicious or contains a download or link, even if it appears to be from someone you trust.

Often they will contain spelling errors, bizarre formatting or extra character, due to the technology used to “spoof” the email.


Official Notice/Delivery Scams

More common than ever using mobile phones, it is common to receive an email or text message from a work’s mobile regarding an extra tax fee, medical bill, expensive item delivery or bank fee.

The key to all of these different scams is that they all look urgent and often direct a victim to quickly click a link to resolve an issue, which leads to either a virus to download or a website where personal information is seized.

Most scams rely on impulse and emotions, so if you feel anxious, angry or excited by the email, take a step back and look again before responding, to avoid being manipulated.


The 419 Scam

The 419 Scam, also known as the Nigerian Prince scam, is one of the most famous scams in history, and technically traces back to Spanish Prisoner scams in the 18th Century.

Essentially, the way it works is that the victim receives an email using a fake account that looks vaguely official looking at first glance and requests the help of the victim with the potential of a substantial reward.

Traditionally, the letter was about the Prince of a deposed sub-Saharan leader who had amassed a significant fortune that they could not gain access too, although it varies in details. Eventually, the scammer requests money, usually via wire transfer, and that is where the money is lost.

The scam can keep going for as long as the victim commits to it, which increases as more money is invested in the scheme.

The interesting lesson to learn is precisely why the scam claims to be from Nigeria. According to a study by Microsoft, this is part of a self-selection process, where people who are unlikely to give money will self-identify at the first step.

For a scam that involves personal work, such as the 419 Scam, this means that the most vulnerable victims effectively volunteer, which is why reporting and warning particularly inexperienced users about scams is very important.