10 Popular Email and Phishing Scams

The internet isn’t always a safe place as you will recognize the 10 popular email and phishing scams listed in this article. While antivirus and anti-malware programs can do quite a bit to keep consumers safe, nothing’s quite as effective as knowing when you’re being scammed. Though the sophistication of phishing scams has increased over the years, the truth is that most scams are fairly easy to identify once you know what you are looking for. The following ten scams have all caused quite a bit of damage but can be avoided by those who look out for them.

List of 10 Popular Email and Phishing Scams

Below, we identify the top 10 popular email and phishing scams and how you can protect yourself from becoming the next victim of one of them.


This is a tricky one because it does skirt right by the edge of legitimacy. Though there are some companies that will pay you to take surveys, there are also plenty of cyber-criminals who are more than happy to use such services to take your information. These scams are fairly easy to identify because they offer big prizes for filling out surveys, especially when you compare them to what the legitimate surveys offer. You’ll also notice that most of these scams ask for a great deal of personal information that wouldn’t be relevant to a real product survey.


This is a scam so old that it predates the internet. The layout of this scam is fairly simple – you’ll get an email that asks you to sign up as a ‘mystery shopper’, usually for a major chain or an upscale restaurant. You’ll usually be asked to make purchases that will be reimbursed later as long as you’re willing to send the items back in order to get a refund. Another twist on this scam usually involves getting reimbursed for buying gift cards, a process that will always end up with a gift card in the mail and no money left in your pocket.


Again, this one tends to hit hard because it can often feel real. A big scam during any time of economic uncertainty, these scams tend to target stay-at-home moms, the elderly, and anyone who can’t get out of their homes to work. It’s one of the more predatory scams out there, and it really does prey on desperation.

Again, there are a few different versions of this scam. One of them requires you to click on a link that will either lead you to downloading malware or to a form that will ask you to give up your most sensitive personal information. The other version of this scam will have you work as a ‘processor’ of some sort for the scammer, buying items for which you are supposed to be reimbursed and then shipping them to the next link in the chain.


This is a relatively recent scam, one that’s become popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. You’ll get an email or text message link to what looks like a video call – you’ll usually note that it claims to be from Zoom, for example. If you click on the link, though, you’ll be taken to a site that will hit your computer with any number of nasty surprises.


This is one of the true classics, dating back to the earliest days of the internet. It typically involves a person from a foreign country (usually Nigeria) who claims to need your help transferring money out of the country. If you are willing to front him or her a portion of that money, the scammer claims that he or she will reward you handsomely for your service. In truth, the other party is just trying to get your bank information so that he or she can drain your accounts.


This one is a frightening scam with a few variations. The key to all of them, though, is that you’re being emailed by someone claiming to be a hitman and that he or she will kill you if you don’t send money (or, more commonly transfer over Bitcoin). This is one of the few scams that preys on fear rather than greed or naivety.


This scam usually involves grandparents, but can come from a long-lost uncle or even your parents. In this case, you’ll get an email from someone who claims to need monetary help because he or she has been in a terrible accident or has even been put in jail. This one usually has a fairly significant time pressure behind it, as the scammer doesn’t want you to actually check up on your family member.


This scam comes from someone who claims to be a contact at a government entity – the World Bank or United Nations is typical during most of the year, but the IRS tends to be the big name during tax season. They’ll say that you need to provide them with your Social Security Number so they can give you important information, which is of course just a trick to get access to your identification data.


Congratulations, you’ve won a contest for which you’ve never signed up! The prizes are usually big and the language is usually congratulatory, but the real goal is to get you to send over some kind of ‘deposit’ so that you can get your prize. In other versions of this scam, you need to verify quite a bit of confidential personal information to get your winnings. In either case, you’ll never see a prize.


The CEO of your company needs important information and he or she needs it now. It doesn’t come from a company email address, of course, but the language is very formal and the screen name is just close enough to that of the CEO that someone could be fooled. The goals here range from getting you to send money to the scammer to revealing your business’ trade secrets.

How to Protect Yourself from Popular Email and Phishing Scams

Since there are so many scams, it does make sense to think about how you can protect yourself from all of them. Luckily, most of the steps you can take are fairly straight forward. These include:

  • Always double-check the information of the sender
  • Use an email lookup tool to get the sender’s real name
  • Delete any unsolicited emails from unknown addresses


While the basic steps above will help to protect you from many scams, they won’t catch everything. If you’re not sure if an email is legitimate, you’ll want to look at some basic warning signs. Scam emails often:

  • Come from unknown senders
  • Ask for money
  • Want your personal information
  • Ask you to deposit money into your own account
  • Come from a generic email account
  • Are incredibly generic about the subject
  • Tend to ask you to verify account information
  • Make claims that seem outrageous or too good to be true


Even if the email that you get seems to pass all the tests above, there are a few things that you should never share over email. If it’s necessary to share this information, doing so via official mail or in-person is usually for the best. As it stands, you should never share your:

  • Social security number
  • Full legal name
  • Date or place of birth
  • Bank account number
  • Account passwords
  • Physical address
  • Phone number


Finally, try to make sure that you pay attention to some basic safety protocols while you are online. Never agree to send anyone money online, for example, and never assume that a stranger who sends you a message is actually telling the truth. If you don’t feel like the email is valid, trust your gut and try to find another way to get in contact with the person who sent you the message.

What if You Are a Victim of these Popular Email and Phishing Scams?

The most frightening thing about these popular email and phishing scams is that while you can practice fairly good internet safety and still get scammed. If that happens, there are a few steps to take.

First, contact your bank or credit card company to find out if there has been any unusual activity. If there are suspicious activities, you’ll need to get new account numbers and/or cards. Next, change any account passwords that might have been compromised and remove any unnecessary identifying information that might be in those accounts.

Next, you’ll start filing reports. If you used a company account, let your employer know. If not, contact the police, the FTC, and your state’s cybercrimes division. You’ll also want to do any kind of damage control involved with the data breach that may occur, so make sure that you follow any data security protocols required by your business if you think that company data may have been breached.

Remember, your response to these scams matters. While it’s always best to avoid them, you still have the ability to fight back. If you’re a victim of one of these 10 popular email and phishing scams, you have a responsibility to help ensure that the scammers can’t do more harm with the data that they have gathered from you.

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