Rural Heritage Sale Barn

Email Scams—Caveat Emptor
by Pat Holscher

The internet has, in a lot of ways, revived the bad old days of business practices. It has liberated the market place from locality, but the long distance nature of the transactions also makes it difficult to police a transaction gone bad. And just as United States and European companies can take advantage of the computer skills of those in developing countries to outsource a lot of their computer-based work, enterprising third world con artists can now invite themselves into your home through your computer.

You need not forego the computer and avoid the new marketplace, but you must remember that the old rules still apply, and then some. The legal maxim caveat emptor (buyer beware) applies even more to the computer-based marketplace than it did to the Roman street vendor to whom it was first applied. Don't let the magic of technology cause you to automatically trust any person using it.

Rather than treating all email as if it's delivered by bonded courier, take the initiative. Suspect any email that offers you money. Do not send a check at some anonymous person's request, and don't ever send credit card or bank numbers when they are solicited by email. And if you should get stung, you are not alone. Please report it so others may benefit and avoid repeating the mistake.

Where to Report Complaints
If you are the victim or intended victim of an email scam, and you live in the United States, report it to the Internet Fraud Complaint Center (a partnership beween the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center) and to the Federal Trade Comission (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection.

If you are in Canada, report to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. This site includes descriptions of several different kinds of scam.


Pat Holscher is an attorney in Casper, Wyoming, who regularly uses email in his practice.

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02 June 2005
25 October 2011 last revision