You open your email on a bright, sunny day and peruse recent messages. Among the collection of personal notes, news articles, and advertisements is a message from the local police department. After opening the email, you discover a notification for a red light traffic violation. Your mind races back through time, evaluating your every move on the road from the day in question. While you can’t recall running a red light, the email from an official-looking address claims you did. How do you respond?
This latest scam preys on the good nature of citizens who want to remain in good standing with their community. The notice explains the violation, when it occurred, and how to remedy the situation. The email may also threaten legal action or incarceration against those who ignore the notice of violation. If a person does as requested in the email, it could lead to financial loss and identity theft.
A scammer usually seeks one of two benefits from this ploy. The thief could demand a target to pay the ticket, thereby gaining an immediate profit from the scam. This is the best case scenario a person can hope for if he or she falls for the scam. A more damaging situation can occur if the scammer convinces a target to download an attached file. The file could be disguised as additional information about the violation or documentation to dispute it. Whatever reason the email provides to convince a recipient to download a file, that person’s computer will likely suffer an electronic attack if it’s downloaded.
When a target downloads a scammer’s attachment, it unleashes a harmful program that either gobbles up personal information to transmit back to the scammer or it locks down the target’s computer and forces the owner to pay a ransom to release it. The consequences of downloading an attachment laced with malware could lead to serious repercussions that are difficult to overcome.
The best way to dodge malware from an email is to avoid downloading unsolicited attachments, no matter who might send the email. This will avoid undesirable consequences if an attachment is from a scammer intent on causing you harm.
To address the authenticity of the traffic violation email itself, do not respond to the sender. Instead, call the police department in the originating jurisdiction using contact information from a source other than the email. Ask about the validity of the violation notice and offer to send the email to the department for its investigative efforts.
Don’t believe every email you read, even if it looks authentic. If you must investigate the validity of a claim, contact the company or government authority the email sender claims to represent using contact information from an outside source such as an official website or phonebook. Always avoid downloading email attachments unless you specifically requested someone to send you the attachment. Keep up your guard at all times online, and never give criminals the chance to steal what’s yours.