Many online scams and fraudulent emails try to entice you into doing something appealing or rewarding. We know to ignore suspicious messages like: “Click this link to win $1,000;” or “Send us your personal information to win a prize.” This is what I like to call fraud that’s just too good to be true.

Over the last year, however, there has been a rise in fraudulent emails that threaten or scare people, instead of entice them. Fake ransomware is one example. The fraudsters claim they can access a company or government’s computers and threaten to lock them up and hold them for ransom in order to get what they want. On a smaller scale, fraudsters may threaten harmful or embarrassing consequences for an individual if he/she doesn’t comply.

This kind of fraud is, simply put, just too bad to be true. Here are some common characteristics of these kinds of scams:

The scam threatens to embarrass you
Some fraudulent emails may come from someone claiming that they’ve hacked into your webcam and have footage of you doing something embarrassing. If you don’t pay them a certain amount of money by a certain date, they’ll threaten to show the video to all of your contacts. Note that fraudsters typically talk in very generic terms. They are trying to get an emotional response out of you, even though they do not actually have embarrassing footage of you. If they had such footage, they would likely provide some details to make it more likely that you would pay their demand. (If you want to take extra precaution, you can always purchase a webcam cover for your laptop or put a piece of tape over the lens. That way, you control when your video is on, and you’ll rest easier knowing for sure that these emails are just a scam.)

The scam threatens to harm you or others around you
Some scams have a scary urgency to them. Typically, they insist that you have a short amount of time to make a decision before something bad will happen. These scams use generic terms to lead you to believe that the hacker knows something about you. They want you to act (pay them money, provide a password, etc.) before you have time to stop and think. Keep in mind that if the email lacks specifics about what they know, it is probably a scam.

The ransom amount is realistic
Typically, scams go out to many people at once, and they ask for something an individual could actually pay. Currently, we’re seeing most scams ask for $600 – $1,000, which would be painful, but not impossible, for many people for fork over.

They claim to be watching you 
To create an added sense of fear and urgency, some scammers will claim to be watching you or monitoring your email or phone. This kind of messaging is meant to make you feel alone in your actions and decision. However, monitoring someone’s email or phone is not easy. Again, unless they provide something specific in their email to support their claim, it is likely a scam.

If you get one of these types of emails and are concerned that it is legitimate, the most important thing to do is immediately contact law enforcement. If the email claimed to be watching or monitoring you, contact law enforcement using another
method, such as going over to your neighbor’s house. Remember that law enforcement has many resourses available to help stop this type of crime. Even if you aren’t 100% sure, there is no harm in letting your local enforcement know what you’ve received. Others may be getting the same message. Scams like this can be distressing and hard to talk about. However, knowing what to look out for—and what to do next—can help you and others avoid falling victim to this kind of fraud.