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Scam Emails: Phishing

Luke Holm earned bachelor degrees in English and Philosophy from NIU. He is a middle school teacher and a creative writer.

Recognizing an E-Mail Phishing Scam

If you open an email and see a message that reads something like this:

"Congratulations! You've just won $47 million! To claim your prize please click on the link below."

I suggest you don't click the link. The senders are phishing for your information so they can use it to commit fraud.


What is Phishing?

I can hear the older generation now. "Back in my day, fishing meant a rod, a reel, and a lure." To them, I say welcome to the internet and the 21st century.

E-Mail phishing is a method used by criminals to obtain sensitive, personal information from their victims. Information they might request could be anything from personal passwords, banking account information, or identification information. The word is a neologism of the internet, created as a homophone of fishing, due to the similarity of using the scam to bait potential victims.

The phishing puns continue as the scams are further categorized. "Spear Phishing" refers to e-mail scams that gather personal information to obtain access to the victim's records. "Clone Phishing" is when a scammer sends a cloned or duplicate e-mail that resembles a reputable business or agency that the victim is affiliated with. The cloned e-mail will include a link that the victim must click, usually "immediately", in order to verify information or prevent some financial disaster from happening. Finally, "whaling" refers to fraudulent e-mails that are directed to high-ranking CEOs or senior executives at a business. The e-mail looks extremely official, usually masquerades as another well-known company, and calls for action on the businessman's behalf, otherwise legal repercussions may occur.


"419" E-Mail Phishing Scams

A "419 Phishing Scam" refers to criminal parties working out of Nigeria or West Africa. The number 419 is named after an article of the Nigerian penal code under which such fraud is prosecuted.

Typically, 419 scams are methods used to obtain large sums of money from the victims. The scam might come in the form of a request for money upfront, with the promise of a larger sum of money soon to come in the near future. Scenarios range from victims being told they just won the Lottery to requests for immediate help due to a family emergency. Sometimes Nigerian princes want to share their billions with you. Other times, someone deceased has nominated you as the beneficiary for their inheritance money.

In most cases, the e-mail requests specific banking information so the funs can be transferred. Oftentimes, the money wire happens through Western Union, MoneyGram, or fraudulent cashier's checks. This type of fraud is called the "Advance Fee Fraud". It calls for immediate action on the victim's behalf with the promise of some later reward. Don't fall for these scams! Remember, it doesn't take a several thousand dollar downpayment to open up a checking account.


Types of E-Mail Phishing Scams

There are many types of e-mail scams on the internet these days. Some are obvious, while others are harder to spot. Scammers love to pull on heartstrings, reference sensitive topics, or cause panic from immediate financial threat. Regardless of the story or scenario, think critically about what is being asked of you. Remember, it's not wise to share personal information via e-mail or telephone. No legitimate company will ask for personal information by such means, so don't provide it!

Types of E-Mail Phishing ScamsDescription

Fake Lottery Winner Scam

You've won a prize, but must pay an initial fee.

Company Representative Scam

The company needs your help and bank account for cashing customer checks. You'll receive a 10% commission for your help.

Dead Foreigner Scam

A rich foreigner has died without an heir. If you claim relation, you'll get part of the inheritance.

Dying Widow Scam

A rich, dying widow has no heirs and wants to give her money to you after she passes.

Loan Scam

A rich foreigner wants to loan you money at a good interest rate, but first you need to make a deposit in their bank account.

ATM Card Scam

There is a bank account waiting for you to withdraw millions of dollars. First, you must provide your banking information.

Job Scam

You've just been hired to work at a high paying, foreign job. Before you can start, you need to send money for immigration papers to a lawyer.

Fake Charity Scam

A charity or ministry is in dire need of your help. Send money fast.

Immigration Help Scam

A person wanting to immigrate to your country needs your help. Maybe they want to marry you and need your information for documentation. Maybe they need money for travel.

Chain Letter Scam

If you choose to participate, your bank account will soon be filled with money. Share with friends and family.

Subpoena Scam

You have been summoned to court. Click the following link to confirm your identification.

The list goes on and on. You get the idea. Some scams are clever, while others are obvious. In all cases, the person needs your help, your money, or your information to complete the process. I suggest you don't give it to them.

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How to Report E-Mail Phishing Scams

If you find that you are a victim of e-mail phishing scams, there are several steps you can take to report the criminal party.

One way to report e-mail scams is by sending an e-mail or letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC compiles complaints about companies, business practices, and identity theft. You can contact them here.

Another way to report e-mail scams is to forward the phishing emails to — and to the company, bank, or organization impersonated in the email. Your report is most effective when you include the full email header, but many email programs hide this information.

You can also report phishing email to The Anti-Phishing Working Group uses these reports to fight phishing.

If you've found that you've already been duped by an e-mail phishing scam, you can contact The process will help you report identity theft or information breach that has already occurred.

Hopefully you haven't fallen victim to such scams. If you have, there are methods of reporting and sharing the information with anti-phishing agencies to help them prevent such attacks from occurring again in the future.


E-Mail Phishing Scam Example

What follows is an interaction I recently had with an e-mail scammer. The scammer has taken on the alias of Alice Pena, a bank accountant from the U.K. who wants to share $14.5 million with me. The money has been sitting in a dead man's bank account for almost ten years. The scammer wants me to claim relationship to this man and obtain the inheritance money so that she can travel to the United States to invest in small businesses across the country. Enjoy.

First E-Mail From Alice Pena

Hello My Dear

How are you doing today? i will like to be sincere and honest with you, i am a woman that have seen life, although is not proud, what matters in our life is your contribution to humanity

Dear, i believe that is the most important thing in life, I had been hardworking all my life, i must think of something better, to enjoy my life and probably have a family maybe relocate and start investing in other things, Anyway i will like to tell you more about me, My name is Miss Alicepena am from Belgium, i was born in Finland, And i left Finland at Age of 8 Years to Uk, which to the glory of God Am working as an Senior Audit/banker in Al Rayan Bank Plc United Kingdom, although is painful i lost my only son age of 3 years

i was married but my Ex Husband got married to another woman, which caused our divorce, but is ok that is life for you, since he accused me of been so busy due to my bank work activities as accounting/auditing, that i was not having time for him and our kid before she passed away, but he refused to understand that i was pursing a goal, i told him that soon i will resign and we will have enough time for each other but he was impatient, although is over between us, I am happy alone because I have everything i need, This is why I think of relocating to another country to get into investment and maybe own a small company which i can be able to manage on my own, Please would you tell me more about yourself too? I like to know more about you for me to know if we can achieve this goal together, your marital status and your country of origin

I will be glad to hear from you soon

Yours Faithful Alicepena

The First Photo She Sent Me


My Response


I am confused as to what it is, exactly, that you are asking me for?


In Reflection

At first, I thought there was a possibility that her e-mail was sincere. Her story was tragic and I'd never received an e-mail like this one before. I thought that maybe she was just some woman who wanted access into the United States. I thought she was asking me to marry her so that she can come legally to the country.


2nd E-Mail From Alice Pena


i must thank you once again for your humble reply to my mail. I really appreciate it so much and i am very happy to read from you, well from your respond i'm convinced that the future has a special place for us, if only we could trust each other and also be honest and faithful to each other as well

Like i told you earlier, i was looking forward to accomplish a particular mission, which my ''ex'' husband was unlucky to achieve with me, I think with the little you have told me about you, it would be very wise to disclose this secret to you and also tell you my aim and plan. Because it would be of mutual benefit to us and maybe you could be the right person to utilize the opportunity with me, because i believe our knowing each other is the way God have destiny it

Remember i told you i am an Auditor of my bank and also the Chief of the International Relation Foreign Remittance Unit. Prior to my position here at my bank, i have the opportunity to loot out some amount of money of a deceased customer, whose autopsy result showed that he died as a result of gun shorts by unknown gunmen. As i was his personal accountant officer, before he died and from the account opening records, he did not indicate anybody as his beneficiary next of kin. Since 2008 to date, nobody has come forward as his beneficiary next of kin to administer the fund. The amount in question is the total sum of $:14.500,000. (Fourteen Million Five Hundred Thousand USD).

I can provide all the required legal papers from the British Court to present you as the legal beneficiary to these funds if you would accept to partner with me in this deal. A lot of abandoned money lay around in this bank as a result of abandoned bank accounts, stock holdings, unclaimed life insurance pay-outs and forgotten pension benefits. I will definitely give you comprehensive details on how we would achieve this legally, without going against the laws of the country. Once you reply to me indicating your interest to work with me. I have worked with the bank for several years and have taken time to study the British inheritance claims procedures. I would appreciate it if you would treat this issue with every bit of confidentiality and maturity, putting my integrity foremost, because i wouldn't need any mistakes or regrets. I assure you that you will never regret it if you would take the bold step to partner with me in this deal. It would be wise if we make every effort not to loose this golden opportunity. This happens in every bank around the world, even in your own country, but people outside the banking industry do not know this.

The fund will be shared at the ratio of 58% for me, 40% for you and 2% will be set aside to cover any expenses and tax in your bank, We will use the fund there in your country to build companies and for investment which both of us would manage, Please this is an honest request for you and i. i only plead for you to make this transaction a top secret because we do not have to trust anybody unless you and i alone

Please i repeat treat this business proposal with utmost confidentiality and send me the following Information(s) for further application for this transfer if you are interested.

A. Your Full Name,

B. Your Home Address

C.Your Identification copy

D.Your Nationality

Thanks and best regards

Yours Faithful Alicepena

The Second Photo She Sent Me


My Response

Hi Alice,

It was very nice to meet you, but I am married and don’t think our arrangement will work out. I wish you the best of luck and hope that you are able to enjoy your $14.5 million in some relaxing and enjoyable way. Have a great weekend!


In Reflection

Her persistence was intriguing. The fact that she wanted our interaction to be so hush-hush was alarming. If she was truly trying to give me a share of her $14.5 million, it certainly didn't sound legal. The whole thing smelled of an underhanded, shady deal. I decided to start researching her name, story, and request. That's when I learned more about scam e-mails and learned about the 419 Phishing Fraud.


3rd E-Mail From Alice Pena

Hello Dear

How are you feeling today hope all is fine with you?, well here is my phone number +447706646191

NOTE do not call me, you can SMS me, Because Bank set security to monitor every member of the Bank due our banking rule and regulation

Kindly make sure that this information will be between you and me until we actualized the success of this transaction, What i want you to do now is to apply for the release of the fund into your account, Make sure you keep a top secret of this transaction because i don’t want any staff of the bank to know that i am responsible for this transaction, This is where i lay the future survival hope of our future, and its was the reason I tried to explain for your best understanding

You should not change your name and nationality in this transaction because you are going to apply as the business partner to the deceased customer Note, if you send this letter to the bank, the bank will not delay to contact you, but you should not respond back to the bank until i direct you on what to do

This is to avoid mistake from your part , See the official letter below, send it through to the bank through the bank email address of the bank as follows.

Bank Details

Managing Director, Sultan Choudhury

Address PO Box 12461 Birmingham B16 6AQ United Kingdom

Phone +44 7970 8534 67

Bank Email

Immediately this fund is transferred into your account, then i will obtain visa to your country for the disbursement of the fund according to my proposal ratio, Immediately you apply update me that you have sent the letter to the bank.