The Anatomy of a Scam Email

The Anatomy of a Scam Email

This morning, I received an email from my first cousin telling me she was in dire straits and needed me to send her money to rescue her. Although the email was signed with her name and contained her normal email signature, it was a scam.

She confirmed this through a follow-up email a few hours later telling everyone to disregard her plea for help. So you never fall for a hacker trap like this, check out the email—and the warning signs that it’s not real:


My regrets for this sudden request, I have been involved in a robbery
during my trip to Madrid, Spain. I got mugged and all my belongings
cash, mobile phone and credit cards were all stolen at gun point.  I
need your help as am trying to raise some money.

I've made contact with my bank but they are not providing a fast
solution. I need you to lend me some money to sort myself out of this
predicament, will pay back once I get this over with.

Please let me know if you can assist me in anyway so I can forward you
details to effect a transfer. You can reach me via email or the
hotel's desk phone +34931060240.


1. I Was BCCed

Immediately, be suspicious of any seemingly personal email that’s not actually sent to you but rather to many people using the BCC option.

2. It Didn’t Even Say My Name

After all, if she really were going to ask me for help, I’d hope that she’d at least address the email to me. You don’t ask for emergency money to be wired to you in a generic email.

3. I’m Not the First Person She’d Ask

I love my cousin, but I’m sure that her younger cousin is not an intuitive first person to ask for help. If you’re wondering why you’re the one getting the email, be on alert.

4. The Language Sounds Funny

My cousin is American. She’d say “cell phone” instead of “mobile phone.” Instead of “I have been involved in a robbery” she’d say, “I got mugged.” And I simply can’t imagine her ever using the turn of phrase: “effect a transfer.”

5. What Happened to the Facts?

Granted, we don’t exactly chat every day, but I didn’t have any notion that she was in Madrid. Before trusting something like that at face value, it’s easy enough to check a person’s Facebook page to see if there were any updates or mentions of a vacation. Especially if you know that she’s active on Facebook, you could almost expect to see some photo or wall post.

Even if I knew better than to fall for this, there’s always the chance that older, less tech-savvy relatives might not know a scam when they see it. So, if ever you receive an email that you suspect is a hoax, do the necessary research, figure out what’s going on and don’t be timid about reaching out to parents and others who may have received the same email to ensure that they don’t fall for it, either.

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