Recognizing and Avoiding Email Scams [Easy Guide] | Homestead Village

Tips to Spot, Avoid, and Report Online and Mail Scams

How to recognize email scams

Did you know that older adults are prime targets for malicious fraudsters? Millions of older Americans fall victim to some type of financial fraud each year. They’re often targeted because they tend to be more trusting and polite as well as have more financial savings and assets than younger adults. 

Scams are big business and fraudsters are getting more and more sophisticated. In 2020, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) reported receiving 791,790 fraud complaints resulting in more than $4.1 billion in losses, with adults aged 60 and over representing 28% and $1 billion of total losses.

Those numbers may look overwhelming, but don’t let it scare you. By following a few best practices and staying alert for unsolicited mail or offers that seem too good to be true, you can recognize when someone might be trying to run an online or mail scam and stop them before they cause you or a loved one any damage.

Spot Online Scams

The Internet is a truly powerful tool. It offers information, connection, and convenience. But it can also create opportunities for unscrupulous people to take advantage of others. Whether it’s a phishing email disguised to look like it came from a reputable source or a fraudulent website masquerading as a legitimate retailer, knowing what to look for can help keep you safe. Below are some tips on how to tell if someone is scamming you online.

  1. Take your time. According to research by the AARP, people of all ages who are under stress or experiencing strong feelings are more susceptible to believing scammers. That’s why scammers want to make you feel a strong emotion, like fear or excitement, that will convince you to act with urgency and without thinking. Often, the best way to protect yourself both online and offline is to take your time. Legitimate companies and government agencies don’t need or expect you to respond without doing your due diligence, so think about it, talk to a friend, and do your research. 

    Additionally, if you get an email from someone who appears to be your friend, but is asking urgently for gift cards—this is also usually a scam. Email addresses can get hacked. It’s always better to pick up the phone and call your friend before assuming that an out-of-character email from what appears to be your friend is legitimate.  The friend may not even realize that their email has been compromised.

  2. Verify before you click. If you receive an email that seems suspicious or visit a new retail website that you’re not sure about, try to independently verify the information. Don’t click on links in the email and, instead, use information from an account statement or on the company’s official website to find out more. Often, a simple internet search for a website that seems suspicious will give you valuable information. 
  3. Read carefully. Poor spelling in emails is a hallmark of online scams. Everyone makes an occasional error but legitimate companies and government organizations are always careful to proofread before sending. If you receive an email with lots of grammar issues, punctuation mistakes, and misspellings, it’s likely a fake. When you visit a website, always check the URL for hard-to-notice differences such as transposed letters or the wrong domain. 
  4. Stop spam before you see it. Spam is not only annoying, it can be dangerous. Limit the number of suspicious emails and increase your online scam protection by making sure your spam filter is enabled on all email programs. 
  5. Don’t make finding your information too easy. Check your internet presence to see if you have your email address or phone number on social media or on any other website. If you do, think about removing them. Don’t make it too easy for scammers to contact you. 
  6. Pay with credit. When doing business online, credit cards and third-party payment services, such as Google Pay, offer more protections than debit cards. Procedures on how to get money back after being scammed online can be a lot easier if you limit your liability upfront by using an appropriate form of payment. 
  7. Pay attention to your accounts. If you don’t frequently check your accounts, it’s a good habit to develop. You can also contact your financial institutions to set up fraud alerts for suspicious activity and check your credit report for free each year. Just remember, there is only one federally authorized credit report site. Other sites, such as Credit Karma and the ones listed here are trustworthy as well, but not federally recognized. 
  8. Don’t be afraid to delete. If you’ve followed the above tips and you’re still not sure, don’t be afraid to delete the email or end the transaction. There are likely to be worse consequences by acting on suspect information than there would be if you happen to delete one legitimate email.

Recognizing Mail Scams

Mail scams use the same tricks as other types of fraud. They create a strong emotion and try to force quick action. For example, every year the government sends warnings about IRS mail scams because scammers know that the IRS makes people fearful and want to act quickly to comply.

The good news is that protecting yourself from mail scams follows similar rules as online scam protection. If you get something in the mail that makes you suspicious or seems too good to be true, the first thing you should do is verify the information through independent sources. Contact the organization directly via credible websites or previous information from legitimate mail you have received, or reach out to a trusted member of your network for help. If you can’t verify the information, simply throw it away and move on.

How to Report a Scammer

If you have been scammed, even if you didn’t lose any money, the best thing to do is report it to the FTC online or by phone at (877) 382-4357. You can also report it online to the Attorney General. Their streamlined system walks you through how to report a scammer, shares information with relevant law enforcement agencies, and offers you options for the next steps, including how to get money back after being scammed online.

Homestead Village Offers Continuous Learning and Connections

Technology and the Internet are always evolving. Some of the best ways to keep yourself safe online and healthy in all aspects of life are to create and maintain social connections and develop the practice of life-long learning.

As a continuing care retirement community, Homestead Village incorporates socialization and continuous learning into daily living. Simply having the right essential care network to lean on when you have questions, want more information, or need support can give you the confidence and tools to stay alert and stop anyone who is trying to take advantage of you in their tracks.

Contact us to learn about the ongoing activities, supportive services and thriving community Homestead Village offers as you or a loved one makes a transition into retirement.



How do you spot an online scam?

  1. Take your time
  2. Verify before you click
  3. Read carefully
  4. Enable your spam filter
  5. Don’t make finding your information too easy
  6. Pay with credit
  7. Pay attention to your accounts
  8. Don’t be afraid to delete

How do you recognize mail scams?

Mail scams use the same tricks as other types of fraud: create a strong emotion and try to force quick action. For example, every year the government sends warnings about IRS mail scams because scammers know that the IRS makes people fearful and want to act quickly to comply.

How do you report a scammer?

If you have been scammed, even if you didn’t lose any money, the best thing to do is report it to the FTC online or by phone (877) 382-4357. 

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