NEW YORK (MainStreet) — A dangerous email may be lurking in your inbox. You might be very tempted, but whatever you do, don't click on the link. The email will have a subject line similar to "funeral notification" or "passing of your friend," and may have the logo, address and other details of a legitimate funeral home. It is a sophisticated and tasteless hoax.

The message will offer condolences and, without naming the deceased, will ask you to join a "celebration of your friend's life service."

Often, the memorial will be held within a very short time frame, creating a sense of urgency. A link is provided that promises full details, including the identity of your friend and the time and location of the service.

"Instead of sending you to the funeral home's website, the link sends you to a foreign domain where the scammers download malware to your computer," says the Federal Trade Commission in a scam alert. "Malware, short for 'malicious software,' includes viruses and spyware that get installed on your computer without your consent. These programs can cause your device to crash and can be used to monitor and control your online activity. Criminals use malware to steal personal information, send spam, and commit fraud."

The FTC says hit "Delete." Don't click on the link. If you think there is the possibility of an actual event, contact the funeral home or family directly to verify the information. To reduce your risk of downloading unwanted malware and spyware, the FTC also recommends:

  • Keep your security software updated.
  • Don't click on any links or open any attachments in emails unless you know who sent it and what it is.
  • Download and install software only from websites you know and trust.
  • Make sure your browser security setting is high enough to detect unauthorized downloads.
  • Use a pop-up blocker and don't click on any links within pop-ups.
  • Resist buying software in response to unexpected pop-up messages or emails, especially ads that claim to have scanned your computer and detected malware. That's a tactic scammers use to spread malware.
  • Back up your data regularly.

The National Funeral Directors Association is also warning members about the fraud: "A scam email received by a member of the NFDA staff included the name of a funeral home website provider at the bottom of the email. The perpetrators of this scam are doing all they can to make their emails seem legitimate."

At least two funeral homes, one each in Texas and Kansas, have reported their names being used in the fraudulent emails.

--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet