E-mail Scams

The internet is a play ground for just about any kind of scam or fraud program you can think of including prime bank fraud, offshore investment scams, programs involving tax fraud, and foreign currency scams to name a few. There are new ones popping up all the time. Years ago when e-mail was all the rage, you might have received an unwanted e-mail message every now and then, and you probably wondered who in the world is this from? However it has gotten to the point that now about half of all e-mails are spam e-mails. More and more people are becoming aware and skeptical about the e-mails they receive and it seems that it is not as effective as it once use to be, and with good reason, because that’s how a great number of viruses are transmitted.

Even though the CAN-SPAM Act was signed into law by President Bush in 2003, the law provides very little real protection, and it’s rarely enforced. This law prohibits senders from harvesting e-mail address from web sites. That’s all well and good, but the downside of the CAN-SPAM Act needs to be addressed, why? It overrides any state law that would give the victim a way to seek justice. The law doesn’t require spammers to get permission before they can send you their marketing message. It also says you can’t sue the spammer for violation of this law. There are two other problems with the CAN-SPAM Act. The first is, and this is just my opinion, the penalties aren’t strong enough. Violation of this law is classified as a misdemeanor with up to one year in the slammer. I don’t think anyone has gone to jail because they got caught sending spam e-mails. The second problem arises from the fact that spam e-mails are coming from other countries and in greater numbers. This law from the United States will have very little, if any, effect on this growing problem.

Phishing and spoofing, kind of sounds like a Saturday morning cartoon, doesn’t it? However it is a very serious threat and no laughing matter. They are typically used together by hackers and other cyber criminals. The CAN-SPAM Act is supposed to prohibit senders of unsolicited commercial e-mail from using a bogus return address to conceal their identity, this is known as spoofing, it prohibits the use of misleading subject lines, and they must provide the option to opt out. Most of the time there is no way to opt out and even if there was, if you click on it, you are telling them that your e-mail address is alive and well, and they will just keep on sending you e-mails anyway. Phishing is used when a cyber criminal uses an e-mail in an effort to steal your personal details like your user names, passwords, and credit card information. A phishing e-mail may contain links to web sites that will infect your computer with malware.

E-mail scams are a very real threat that you need to be aware of. The perpetrators of e-mail scams are very slick. Here’s how it works. You’ll get an e-mail that will appear to be from someone you are already familiar with, for example your internet service provider, E-Bay, Amazon, or any number of well known and respected businesses and it will be very official looking with the correct color schemes and company logos. It will instruct you to take urgent action by clicking on the link contained in the e-mail to verify or update your account, or your account or service or what have you will be disrupted, discontinued, terminated, or cancelled. These e-mails are so official looking that they can very easily fool you, and of course once you click the link and start entering your information, it’s too late, they have you, and this can lead to identity theft.

Here’s what happened to me once a long time ago when this type of activity was in its infancy and most people were relatively unaware. I received an e-mail just like I mentioned above. It appeared to be from my internet service provider. At first I did not think that this was a scam. I knew my account was up to date and couldn’t understand why I would receive an e-mail telling my service may be terminated. I decided to call and talk to someone and get an answer right now instead of responding to this e-mail. As I was on hold waiting to speak to someone, I don’t know why, I really didn’t think it was a scam, and clicked on the link. I rationalized, rather illogically, that while I was waiting on hold I would go ahead and click on the link and start filling in the required information and be that much ahead of the game when I talk to someone in customer service. When I finally did speak to someone they informed me that it was a scam, it was not from them, and they would never ask for personal information in an e-mail. If there was a problem they would send an e-mail asking me to call them regarding my account. They said there is a lot of this going on and ask me to forward a copy of that e-mail to their fraud department. Now I really opened myself up, and you know what’s a weird mixture of emotions? Being extremely aggravated and embarrassed at the same time. I immediately called each of my credit card companies and closed those account and each company issued me another card with a new account number. Then I contacted each of the three major credit bureaus and placed fraud alerts on my personal credit file. Thankfully, nothing happened, I dodged the bullet on that one, and all is well.

So be ever cautious and vigilant with any questionable e-mails, always contact the company in question, and after you have forwarded the scam e-mail to them delete the e-mail from your hard drive. The scam e-mails may appear to come from internet service providers, or other service providers such as Paypal or like those mentioned earlier. If you do get one of these, call the company in question, they will want to know, and they will want you to forward the e-mail to them.

Here are a few red flags to look out for to help you identify and guard against e-mail and phishing scams.

1. These e-mail scams won’t address you by your name because they don’t know your name.

2. Any legitimate company such as your host provider or PayPal will always tell you to go to their site and log in, and they will never send you an e-mail instructing you click on a link.

3. If you do a mouse over the link you will see that it has a different URL than the one in the e-mail.

4. Look out for e-mails warning you about viruses. They will give you directions on how to avoid the virus, these are usually a hoax attacking your operating system, and creating problems on your computer.

5. Use your anti-spam filters that come with your e-mail client, they should, in general, help protect you from virus hoaxes, phishing scams, and spammers.

There is another e-mail fraud of a different type. Some time ago, for a period of a couple of years or so, I don’t think a week went by that I didn’t get a scam e-mail that is in some way a variation of the Nigerian scam. They come from various countries and some are actually from Nigeria. I don’t get these too much anymore but they do still exist. I guess after not responding for so long perhaps they dropped me from their list? Yeah, right.

Basically they all have the same traits, poor spelling, atrocious grammar, and they usually come from an attorney or at least they give you the impression that they do. The letter states that their ‘client’ has recently passed away or was killed, there are numerous millions of dollars in an account in the United States, and there is no heir to this now deceased person.

The way I understand this is these scam artists are looking for a number of victims to share in this wealth. They will send the victim a check for a specified amount to be deposited. Then the victim will send them a money order for a somewhat smaller percentage of the check. The balance is the victim’s to keep for their part in the exchange. Now the check is bogus and by the time your bank discovers it is no good, the scam artist already has your money. It may be a little more complicated than this, but at least you get the idea.

There are a couple of federal agencies that are very interested in this type of activity. I have talked with representatives from the Federal Trade Commission and they recommend that e-mails like this be forwarded to their link mailto:spam@uce.gov and they also suggested you forward it to the United States Secret Service, and their link is mailto:419.fcd@usss.treas.gov.

Spyware is a program designed to spy on you, or rather your computer habits, and it is a problem in an exploding global marketplace. Spyware employs very aggressive spying and advertising manipulation of your internet surfing habits. According to Web Root Software Inc., it is approaching the two billion dollar threshold.

The National Cyber Security Alliance has stated that “spyware infects more than ninety percent of all personal computers today.” It’s kind of like a spyware program that has stealth capabilities, most of the time you won’t even know it’s there, but boy they are nasty little cyber gremlins that have the ability to bypass anti-virus software and firewalls. After the spyware program has found its way into your computer it can create chaos with your system’s performance and gather your personal information. The upside, I guess if there is one, would be that a spyware program cannot reproduce or mutate like a virus or a worm.

The most common way for your computer to have spyware is because you downloaded and installed it. You might be thinking I wouldn’t download or install something like that, and of course you wouldn’t, knowingly. If you have ever downloaded and installed a shareware program or a freeware program, chances are there was a spyware program attached or embedded with it, and like I said before, you wouldn’t even know it. After the spyware program has been installed it goes to work quietly in the background collecting your personal data for the spyware program creator’s personal use.

Sometimes a spyware program will infect your computer by tricking you. The Internet Explorer web browser was actually programmed to prevent web sites from starting downloads, you have to click on a link to start the download, and the problem is that link could be deceptive. Here’s an example; you’re surfing the internet and you’re checking out a web site, a box pops up on your screen and asks you if you would like to increase your internet browsing speed. You notice there is a box for yes and a box for no, but it doesn’t matter which one you click on, you’ll download the spyware, and so the best way to handle this is by clicking on the ‘x’ in the upper right corner of the browser and shut it down. One last note, the technology behind Internet Explorer is improving all the time and it has become more difficult for a spyware program to exploit this technique.

Another, although less frequent approach, is when you visit a web site that is controlled by a spyware creator. I know you would not intentionally visit a site belonging to a spyware creator, that’s my point, because you just don’t know. What happens is you’ll visit a page that has some code that will attack your browser and install the spyware. Spyware programs can be developed or created to do a variety of things. Some programs are just plain malicious and will attack your computer, other spyware programs can be very aggressive in the type and amount of personal information they collect, and whether they are aggressive or malicious one thing is for sure; they are most definitely annoying and troublesome.

Here is a list of capabilities a spyware creator can accomplish when developing a program.

1. Steal personal information like credit card numbers and passwords.

2. Change the default settings on your browser.

3. Scan files on your hard drive.

4. Look through the applications you have running on your desktop.

5. Install other spyware programs without your knowledge and permission.

6. Bombard you with numerous annoying pop up ads.

There are some things you can do to reduce your chances of infecting your computer with spyware.

1. The first rule is, if you don’t know, don’t download it.

2. Be extremely cautious of P2P file sharing programs as they are well known for having spyware programs.

3. When you download a program scrutinize the license agreement. Sometimes a program creator will tell you that a spyware program will be installed with your requested program. Sadly, most of us don’t take the time to read the agreement.

4. It definitely pays to read the license agreement because sometimes there will be a box you can check that will prevent the spyware from being installed with the program you’ve requested.

To be in compliance with United States Federal Trade Commission Regulations, I must tell you that I, or my publishing company, may receive a commission from the sale of these products or programs. It takes a great deal of time to research, investigate, assemble, and publish, and to be honest, the few dollars  in commissions I, or my company, make in bringing you the best of the best in programs are what keeps my company going.  Allow me to take this time to thank you for reading this article and reviewing the following offers.

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