The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has released the following list of the 12 most common scams found in unsolicited commercial e-mail (or spam).
Business Opportunity Scams - Most of these scams promise a lot of income for a small investment of time and money. Some are actually old-fashioned pyramid schemes in disguise.
Making Money By Sending Bulk E-mailings - These schemes claim that you can make a lot of money sending your own solicitations via bulk e-mail. They sell lists of e-mail addresses or software to allow you to make the mailings. What they do not mention is that the lists are of poor quality; sending bulk e-mail violates the terms of service of most Internet service providers; virtually no legitimate businesses engage in bulk e-mailings.
Chain Letters - These electronic versions of the old-fashioned chain letters usually arrive with outrageous promises about money-making opportunities. Like their paper counterparts, these electronic messages also are illegal.
Work-At-Home Schemes - The e-mail messages offer the chance to earn money in the comfort of your own home. Two popular versions, according to the FTC, pitch envelope stuffing and craft assembly. But nobody will really pay you for stuffing envelopes and craft assembly promoters usually refuse to buy the crafts, claiming the work does not meet their "quality standards".
Health and Diet Scams - These offer "scientific breakthroughs", "miraculous cures", "exclusive products", "secret formulas", and "ancient ingredients". Some come with testimonials from "cured" consumers or endorsements from untraceable "famous medical experts".
Easy Money - Offers such as "Learn how to make $4,000 in one day" or "Make unlimited profits exchanging money on world currency markets" appeal to the desire to "get rich quick".
Get Something Free - The lure of valuable, free items - computers or long-distance phone cards, for example - get consumers to pay membership fees to sign up with these scams. After they pay the fee, consumers learn that they don't qualify for the "free gift" until they recruit other "members".
Investment Opportunities - These scams may tout outrageously high rates of return with no risk. Glib, resourceful promoters suggest they have high-level financial connections, that they are privy to inside information or that they guarantee the investment. To close the deal, they may serve up phony statistics, misrepresent the significance of a current event or stress the unique quality of their offering.
Cable Descrambler Kits - For a small initial investment you can buy a cable descrambler kit so you can receive cable without paying the subscription and monthly utilization fees.
Guaranteed Loans or Credit, On Easy Terms - Some offer home equity loans, even if you don't have any equity in your home. Others offer guaranteed, unsecured credit cards, regardless of your credit history. The "loans" turn out to be lists of lending institutions and the credit cards never arrive.
Credit Repair Scams - These scams target consumers with poor credit records. For an upfront fee, they offer to clear up a bad credit record - for a fee - or give you a completely clean credit slate.
Vacation Prize Promotions - Like their snailmail counterparts, these e-mail "prize promotions" tell consumers they have been selected to receive a "luxury" vacation at a bargain-basement price. But the accommodations aren't deluxe and upgrades are expensive.
Deceptive Email Messages
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have received reports that Internet users are receiving deceptive e-mail messages. These messages advise you that an order for goods in the amounts of hundreds of dollars will be billed to your credit card. To cancel the order (that has never been placed), the recipient is advised to call the telephone number on the screen immediately. The international telephone call will show up on your phone bill some time later. The scheme is a combination of spamming and telecommunications fraud.