By now, many people have learned to ignore pleading e-mails from close friends who say they’re trapped in a foreign country and need your money. That’s a relatively easy fraud to spot. Since when did your close friend start speaking zombie English? But a new scheme hides behind an American institution: The E-ZPass transponder used to quickly pay tolls.

Transportation agencies that administer E-ZPass accounts are warning their customers to beware of an e-mail scam that begins with a claim they haven’t paid their bills.

The Virginia E-ZPass program provided this sample of the e-mail scam.

People targeted by the scammers are not necessarily E-ZPass users. James Paul of Annandale said in an e-mail that he discovered one. “Not being an automobile owner, and never having driven in the Lexus lanes, I wasn’t surprised to see it in the spam filter,” he said. “The sending address being in France was another tipoff.”

The sending address that the e-mail reader sees at first glance may not be the full address, but rather something like, “E-ZPass Info,” or “E-ZPass Customer Service Center.” Where the actual e-mail address appears, the address may be different. The one Paul spotted had a designation suggested it originated in France. The one in the sample provided by the Virginia E-ZPass operators has a standard “.com” sender address.

The subject line also may vary. The one in the Virginia sample says, “In arrears for driving on toll road.” In the fake message that Paul received, the subject line is, “Payment for driving on toll road.”

The body of the message will say something about you failing to pay for using a toll road.

Overall, the e-mail looks very official. It has the purple color you see on the highway signs and at toll plazas. It even had a link that purports to lead to the agency’s “Phishing Policy.” Paul described that reference as “a bit cheeky.”

To me, the most chilling thing is that the scammers spell “E-ZPass” right. Almost nobody outside of government can do that.

Bottom line: Control your outrage or fear about an unexpected bill. And don’t click on the link provided to obtain a copy of your invoice. The scammers are after your private information. Just delete the e-mail. E-ZPass bills generally come in the U.S. Mail.

If you have any doubts, call the customer service center for the agency that holds your account. For Virginia accounts, that’s 877-762-7824. For Maryland accounts, it’s 888-321-6824.

I haven’t seen any form of this scam e-mail that indicates it comes from any particular agency that issues E-ZPasses. The scam logo is a generic “E-ZPass Service Center.”