Clark Howard’s #1 Rule To Avoid Email Scams

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The majority of Americans have an email address, and billions of emails are sent and received every day around the world.

It’s no wonder that internet crime is rapidly increasing. Even worse, phishing scams — using email or text messages to trick you into giving away personal information — were one of the top three most reported internet crimes in 2020 according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

How To Avoid Email Scams

The following tips come from Team Clark research and money expert Clark Howard himself. Clark says it’s more important than ever to stay one step ahead of crooks who are looking to exploit your email as a way to get into your bank account.

“The criminals are opportunistic,” he says. “They migrate their tactics and targets.”

Because of the prevalence of scam emails, it’s good to know how to recognize them when they hit your inbox.

Tips To Spot an Email Scam

  • Sketchy subject lines: Sometimes, you can spot a scam just from the subject line. Often, it will refer to something financial, or it will ask you to take action on something. Here are some specific email subject lines to look out for.
  • Unaffiliated email addresses: If you notice that the email address of the sender does not look like it came from an organization or email provider you recognize, then it could be a “phishing” attack.
  • It says, “You Won!”: Countless people are lured to open emails that promise rewards for contests they never entered. If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Contact from businesses you don’t do business with: If you see an email from PayPal, Netflix, Amazon or another large company — but it’s not a company you’ve gotten an email from before — it’s may not be legitimate.

Clark says many email scams are so successful because they look “eerily real.” I can attest to that because I recently received a fraudulent one from “PayPal.”

 Here’s a screenshot (and no, I didn’t click on anything).

PayPal email scam

From the screenshot above, it may be hard to tell this is a scam, but notice that the (weird and unaffiliated) email address gives it away!

You may be wondering if there’s anything you can do to ensure you don’t fall victim to a criminal intent on defrauding you. Read on.

Clark’s #1 Rule on How To Avoid Email, Text and Phone Scams

“Do not give up any information, nor click on anything in an email or a text — or share information in a phone call you did not originate.”

Let’s look at those three forms of communication and get Clark to elaborate on tips to stay scam-free.



Got a suspicious message in your inbox? It’s important that you do not click on any links inside the email, although you can read it.

“With the email, note what they’ve said and delete it,” Clark says.

Text Messages

Similarly, if you’ve received a text message from someone you don’t know, Clark says, “Note what it says, but do not click on any link in it.”

Phone Calls

If you receive a phone call from a financial institution or anybody else asking for sensitive personal information, here’s what Clark advises:

“If you’re told there’s a problem with your account on a phone call, say ‘Thank you very much, I’ll check into it. Have a great day.’ Hang up the phone.”

Note: If the communication is purported to be from a company where you have an account, such as your bank or an online retailer, after you’ve hung up or deleted the message, it’s important that you follow up. Call the institution yourself or sign in to your account online and see if there are any alerts or messages.

Bottom Line

Clark says you can protect yourself by not taking action if you’re unsure about an online request.

“Again, never, never, never, not ever click on any link in any email, any text or give any personal information in any phone call that is made to you instead of from you,” Clark says.

If you run across an email scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission at

Because scams can trick even the best of us, and most scammers are trying to get information to get to your money, Clark recommends that you freeze your credit.


To hear more from Clark on this issue, listen to the full segment from his podcast:

Want to learn more? Here is a step-by-step guide to freezing your credit.

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