Identifying Spam When it Arrives
Most of us have opened our email program and found, alongside correspondence from people that we know, offers for products from commercial web sites. Some of these emails we expect. We have asked to be notified of sales and other opportunities or joined a mailing list offered by the company. Many times, however, the offers are from companies that we have never done business with and may have never even heard of. This is Spam, unsolicited bulk email, and can quickly lead to a massive overload of your inbox. There are people that have reported receiving upward of 200-1000 pieces of spam per day.
Identifying Spam as soon as it occurs is the first step to preventing it from happening again. Once your email address is in circulation with these companies, you are well on your way to a very nasty problem. Advertising from legitimate companies is one form. The rest are for illegal services, pornographic material, questionable products, and fraudulent schemes. It is invasive and many times illegal. Spam is the worst form of junk mail and a typical reason why many people have to change their email addresses.
Anybody that has the ugly chore of going through the e-mail in basket will see these little gems and should recognize them for what they are worth – garbage. Yet, these scam messages seem to be increasing in number and sophistication. A few of them are very enticing.
Most of these messages come from non-USA or Canadian sources. They prey upon those internet users that for one or more reasons have not installed SPAM blockers in their PCs and are very receptive to money being waved under their noses. They are sent out by the millions around the world. Their favorite targets are the kids or the user that cannot comprehend that what they are reading is a spoof.
There should be a way of stopping or catching these spam / scam operators, but the mouse seems to always be two jumps ahead of the cat. Besides being ever-present traps where the victims are separated from sizeable sums of money, they block out legitimate marketing efforts. Thus, the victims are not only the people that bite on their offerings, but also the small businessperson that must advertise in order to gain sales and grow marketing lists.
Thus, this article offers advice on how to detect these scams but does not offer a software model that promotes an automatic detection and removal remedy for such scam activity. Offers that promote such results may be no better than the scams they attempt to block, detect, and remove. The user should get third party opinions about how effective such software has been employed.
There are two types of scams that fall into the category of “We have millions of dollars just waiting for you.” One is the Nigerian 419 Scam and its variants. The other is the Lottery Winnings Scam. These work as follows:
The Nigerian 419 started out in Lagos, but has spread to other countries, mostly Third World nations. It starts out with a legal official. They often use the term “barrister” to identify themselves. Other titles might be a bank official or consultant. Recognize the titles. If you don’t know them it is a dead giveaway, especially if the person writing the message is from an offshore country.
The scenario involves a very wealthy client, a war or a disaster of some sort, and the client having perished with his bank holding all the assets. The bank must dispose of the assets, otherwise it will confiscate them. There are no next of kin for the deceased client. The attorney or official must find somebody to stand in for the lost heir..That “somebody” is YOU, the intended victim. One other identifier is they say confidentiality must be maintained.
The perpetrators want YOU to complete a form and submit it. They will take care of everything. They spring the trap when they say an official or a bank department must claim a fee before the inheritance or assets are released to you. The fee is substantial, most typically $5000 USD. A fee to cover an inheritance of a million dollars is not much. The scam ends up with you paying the fee, the scammers acknowledging receipt of payment, and the final act of disappearance, including your money.
The Lottery Scam is similar, although there is no heir or disaster to start it rolling. Instead you have won a lottery prize from some country. The notification comes from a secretary or treasurer of some sort, advising you that you have won. An agent or attorney then appears. Without his or her help, you cannot set up your winnings in a foreign bank, nor can you move such money into the US without the IRS finding out about it. Again, a fee of $5000 USD will make sure all eyes are closed when the money moves. The only money that will move will be your $5000 into the pockets of the scam perpetrators.
What can you do? The first thing is to install spyware or malware programs in your PC. That should minimize the number of scam attacks on your system, but if they already have your IP address or e-mail addresses in their files, you will still get spam / scam into your system.
Do not open any e-mail that has an attach file from a source you do not know or trust.
Review the Originator and Subject of everything in your in-basket. If it comes from a known origin or has a Subject representing something you expect or want, flag the item. When you are done, group all the flagged items and move them into a folder marked “Flagged Items.”
Delete the remainder of items in your in basket
You will kiss the spammers and scammers goodbye.
And with that, it is time to review my own in basket. The spammers and scam artists never quit. If several of them do decide it isn’t worth it, at least I will not get tagged.
In best cases, the clue can be found in the subject line. If you are offered quick money or a chance to find your long lost high school classmate, you can probably guess that it is Spam. You may be amazed that, as you read your email, that these companies claim a right to send you this email because you have a relationship with one of their “partners” or “affiliates”. All that this may mean is that they bought your email address from another company with dubious privacy policies. It is still Spam.
Spammers will try to trick you. Unfortunately for us, Spammers only need a response rate, by some estimates, of 0.0001% in order to be profitable. This means that they will use practically any measure to get you to open it before hitting the delete button. You may receive an email from Grandma or one asking for help in the subject line. Before you know it, you are reading their advertisement, if only out of curiosity. These spammers can be trickey.
Check the dates and times on any email that you are unsure of. These companies know that many email programs will sort the inbox by the earliest mail sent. As a result, they place false send dates and times on their Spam hoping that you will open them first.
The worst has to be the ones that seem to come from companies that you know and trust. They may claim to be from your internet service provider in the subject line or have a similar address to that company’s name. It may look like it is from the accounts payable department of a major law firm. Spammers count on your curiosity and hope that you will respond. Even if you don’t buy anything, they now know that your email address is connected to a live person and, if nothing else, can sell that address to someone else.
Read the To and From fields in any questionable email that you receive. If the To field is empty or filled with an anonymous address, then you have Spam. An anonymous address is typically something like firstname.lastname@example.org. An address from someone that you do not know through an account at hotmail, yahoo, or msn is probably Spam. These are anonymous, easy to get accounts that spammers use and then discard when they are done. By the time the Service Provider has been made aware that spam is originating from these accounts, the spammer is gone. Scrambled, random addresses (X12YT853@yahoo.com) from accounts like these are definitely not to be trusted regardless of the content.
Finally, if the email contains a story in which you are asked to do anything to help anyone, check the story out online. There are several great websites like truthorfiction.com that will help you sort through any potential scams or hoaxes perpetuated through email. These stories can range from silly pranks to dangerous fraud schemes and may need to be reported to the proper authorities before someone, like you, finds their bank account drained.