At first glance, the email really looks as if it's from a friend who needs help. He says he's in a hospital abroad and drowning in expenses. You can help him out with a credit card payment, all you need do is click on a link in the email.
But if you do put in your credit card details, then you, like countless others, have fallen for the scam. Your friend is probably sunning himself on a beach somewhere and doesn't know his account has been hacked.
The cleverness of this kind of fraud is that the email may actually have been sent from your friend's account. "It may well be that hackers have gotten access to your acquaintance's email account through a cyberattack," says tech reporter Fabian von Keudell.
Other times, fraudsters set up email addresses that look very similar to an existing account but with minimal differences. "With enough criminal energy, email addresses can be faked so that they look real and contain no errors," von Keudell says.
Another fraud is called romance-scamming. Via dating sites or similar platforms a user is contacted and invited to chat. Soon there are declarations of love, followed by requests for money – often to pay for treatment for an alleged accident or because the boss hasn't paid the wages yet. All fake scenarios, of course.
Yet another scam involves getting an email from a stranger who says they need help with an unexpected inheritance or a lottery win.
The senders usually purport to be high-ranking citizens, aristocrats, lawyers, bank employees or soldiers, says Hans-Joachim Henschel of the State Office of Criminal Investigation in Lower Saxony, Germany.
They promise to share a lot of money with you but really they just want to obtain an advance payment or your bank details.
If you detect a fraudulent email, you should delete it but first mark it as spam so that your mail filter learns how to recognise such emails in future.
In the case of romance scamming, Harald Schmidt, a crime prevention official in Germany, recommends blocking the contact immediately. You can also save all emails and chat logs and take them to the police.
If what looks like a dubious contact comes from an acquaintance, you should telephone them to confirm whether or not it came from them.
If you can't reach them by phone, you should email them back asking for some piece of information that only they should know, von Keudell advises. – dpa