By now, who hasn’t received an e-mail from someone claiming to be a member of the Nigerian royal family, seeking help transferring millions of dollars to a safe facility in the United States, to keep it from falling into the wrong hands? While it seems improbable that anyone getting such a message would truly believe that out of the hundreds of millions of people in the world, this “prince” or other relative of a supposedly deceased world leader would be contacting average “Joe” in the Midwest for help, apparently some people do fall for it.

 Identifying a scam may be hard. The rule of thumb should always be “if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is”.

 Besides scams, however, the average individual today with an e-mail account is bound to receive junk e-mails by the dozens. Needless to say, we recommend not only that they be ignored, but that they be deleted. It is not difficult for the unscrupulous to attach or imbed a virus or other hacking program in the types of attachments that come with junk e-mails. Likewise, when you receive an e-mail from a “friend” with a video of a cute little kitty or some purportedly exciting attachment, exercise extreme caution about opening the file. Unless you are absolutely certain the message is from someone you know, don’t open the message or any attachment. Look for clues in the message that it is really just spam:

  • Did your “friends” use the nickname for you that they usually use, or address you more formally?
  • Is there simply a hyperlink but no other message?
  • Does their actual listed e-mail address in the “from” line match the one you know to be accurate?
  • Are there misspellings or grammatical mistakes that you wouldn’t expect them to make?
  • Are there other recipients listed of whom you’ve never heard before?

If you open a spam or junk message by accident and unleash a virus, cleaning and fixing your computer can be an expensive proposition. It is highly unlikely that you can look to someone else for the injuries or damages you sustain. Your e-mail service provider or internet service provider will disclaim all liability for the damage and cost. Everyone who signs up for a new electronic service checks a box that says “I agree” before they ever receive the service. The agreement you just checked were to the “terms” of use, which nobody ever reads. The next time you sign up for any service, give those terms a look. You usually waive any liability for problems you encounter using the internet (which would include turning over your bank account information to the Nigerian prince so that he can transfer funds to your account), and often actually agree to monthly or annual fees you don’t realize you are paying until you see an odd vendor name on a credit card bill months in the future. However, it is no different than any other contract in that one should “read the fine print”. In the context of internet services, there is no high-pressure sales pitch, no time limit to join, and you have all the time in the world to read the terms of use before you click the “I agree” or “accept” box.

 In what may be the very first lawsuit filed over some internet-based entity’s “terms of service”, a class action case was recently filed against Instagram. You should keep in mind, however, that the claim is that they changed their terms of service unilaterally on people who had signed up under different terms. Many legal scholars think this case has very little chance for success, given that like a television, where if you don’t like what you’re watching you can turn it off, Instagram users could have simply deleted their accounts if unhappy with the new terms. Given the probable failure of a case related to altered terms of use, there is, at this point, little hope that you can collect monetary damages for injuries you may sustain as the result of internet scams and spam from a company whose terms you accept blindly and entirely. Therefore, as much as we would like the law to help us when we are victimized by a scam, there are substantial limits to what can be done. You’ll never really find the “prince” who robs you of your identity or funds, and the internet service provider you use doesn’t promise you protection from those scams.

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