Scams, Span and Legend

The Internet is a marvelous medium. Fast, changeable, inherently maleable.

But with the speed and flexibility comes a huge downside: anyone can publish anything they want and many people will believe it. What a huge money-making opportunity for the unscrupulous!

This article attempts to shed some caution on some of these tricks, and point you to some resources for dealing with them.

Spam

Generally, spam means "Unsolicited Commercial Email". The origins of the term "spam" always revolve around the Hormel product of the same name, but the true origin is debatable. I like the Monty Python explanation: "too much of a good thing ..."

In any case, spam comes to us in many forms.

  • Money making schemes (chain letters)
  • Web-oriented services (search engine registration)
  • Business-oriented services (credit card offers)
  • Advertisements (nutritional supplements, sex sites, etc.)
  • Industry specific advertisements

 

Personally, I'm not opposed to business-oriented spam or targeted spam that hits its mark (e.g. real estate related spam). I may be interested in one out of 10, but this type of spam saves me from searching it out myself.

Most of the Email spam we get is obnoxious, but not dangerous or offensive. Delete it and get on with your life. There are some proactive things you can do, however.

Filter Your Mail: Most ISPs will filter your email before it gets to you. You may also want to consider a free/commercial version of anti-spam/anti-virus software you can install yourself. You can "whitelist", "blacklist" or simply manage your quarantine of suspected spam regularly.

"Snowball Chain Letters" are particularly nasty - you send a huge Email with SNOWBALLs in it to a huge list of people ... be sure NOT to hide the recipient list. Angry recipients reply to the SNOWBALL, and some will even "reply all" - "reply all" will send the SNOWBALL reply to the entire recipient list again!

There are two ways to deal with this type of spam: (1) don't reply to it, and (2) create a filter to delete the unwanted email. These are less prevalent than they used to be.

Filters are also effective if you want to block all email coming from a certain ISP ("suziesexpot.com") or from a particular sender ("yourname@domain.com").

Another insideous type of Spam is the "Ed ... I just spoke with Jim about the car ... call me tomorrow. (signed) Fred". Obviously, you're not Ed and you don't know Fred, Jim or anything about the car. Sounds innocent enough ... a misdirected email.

Guess again. This email is meant to test your email account for validity. If the mail is bounced back as undeliverable, your email address will be removed from their list. Otherwise (whether you reply or not) your email will be included in the senders "14,000,000 clean email addresses on CD" spam you'll get next week.

What can you do about it? That depends on you. Here's some easy tips:

  • Ignore it. Deleted it. Filter it.
  • DON'T reply to it, even if the email says you can get removed from their list by doing so - this simply confirms the validity of your email address.
  • Don't send flame, mailbombs or resort to other nasty retaliation - this is overkill and usually hurts a lot of innocent folks along the way
  • Determine the sender's true originating ISP (view the email's header) and send an email "abuse@ISP". If the sender's true originating ISP if "ibm.net", send a complaint to "abuse@ibm.net".

There are some great Spam resources on the internet. If you're interested in stopping the flood, see some of these sites: Stop Spam, and Stop Spam (Scam Busters).

Scams

Scams are usually spam first. These take many forms, but generally involve the transfer of funds from "you" to "them". Multi-level marketing inducements may or may not be scams, but legitimate businesses can almost always be promoted in better ways.

Scambusters.com reports that Furby's were the focus of scam after scam last fall. This site provides a well-rounded look at Internet scams, and provides information that you may find useful.

One particularly onerous scam, once found off the Internet, involves the transfer of millions of dollars from Nigeria. If you help, you'll get to keep 25%. I've received several offers such as this through the US MAIL (mail fraud), but the following email covers the same ground (wire fraud):

Dear Sir

Business Proposal - Strictly Confidential
I am Dr. Peter Usman, the Secretary to the Contract Award and monitoring committee, setup by the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OF NIGERIA, and charged with the responsibility of awarding, monitoring and commissioning of executed projects on behalf of all Federal Ministries / Agencies.

During the last Military Administration of General Sani Abacha before his sudden death on the 8th of June 1998, I was privy to some contracts awarded to some companies that fronted for the late General and some members of his family. These contracts were not really executed the funds were just set aside as avenues for the late General to have access to the ever available OIL WEALTH OF THE NATION. These were the funds he wanted to use to buy the Nigerian people to enable him fulfill his life ambition of perpetuating himself in power.

Unfortunately, he died and a new administration has taken over. The present regime is carrying out a probe into the activities of the late head of state and already substantial amount of money had been recovered from.I am privilege to be aware of this development because I am a top Government functionary and a close confidant of the FIRST FAMILY and hence it is still assumed within government circle that the funds had been used to pay for executed contracts.

However, the present administration which is probing the last Goverment between (1994-1998)are not aware of such existence of these funds which were paid through the FAMILY ECONOMIC ADVANCEMENT PROGRAMME put together and run by the former First Lady. For now I am not at liberty to give you more details through facts and figures - To give you a concise picture of what I am saying here until I can ascertain your stand on the proposal.

Me and members of my committee want to use this opportunity to benefit from these funds which run into several millions of dollars presently lying idle in our apex bank by having them transferred into an overseas account.

This has resulted from the fact that all persons in the civil service are barred from operating any foreign bank account while in service of the Government. That is why we decided to approach you to assist us in achieving our objective, for example by providing an account were these funds can be remitted into for safe-keeping. As well as the complete fronting for us throughout the duration of this transaction until we come over for have our share.

BENEFIT
For providing the account for us to remit the money and for assisting us in realization of the transfer and also partaking in the entire process, you will be entitled to 20% of the money, 75% will be for me and my partners, while 5% has been mapped out from the total sum to cover any expenses that may be incurred by us during the cause of this transaction. It could be for both local and international expense. This business is 100% risk free.

We have already started putting in place structures that would ensure success in the business. Please contact me immediately you receive this mail on the above Tel and fax number.

Your response and cooperation is highly solicited.

Yours Faith fully,
Peter Usman (Ph.D)
Phone # 234-1-7743607

If you get email or letters along this vein, report them to your banker ... they will forward them to the appropriate authorities.

Urban Legends

We've all grown up with urban legends - tall tales that are just plausible enough to have us saying "... really?" Here's a few examples perpetrated over the web:

 

And my favorite of all time:

Neil Armstrong's famous "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" was followed by "Good luck, Mr. Gorsky". For years, friends and associates simply thought Neil was commenting to a Russian astronaut. As it turns out, that was not at all the case. Find out what Neil really meant!

For one of the most complete sites - discussing urban legends, hoaxes and scams - see the Urban Legends category of the Mining Company. You'll enjoy it.

Hoaxes

Unfortunately, the speed and ease of Email allows us to broadcast "warnings" to our friends faster than we've ever been able to do it with mail. There are some great resources to check out virus warnings like these. You should do some investigation before inflicting your Email list with Angst. I, for one, don't understand what pleasure anyone gets from creating these types of hoaxes. They're insideous, like spam, but incredibly pointless.

DANGER! VIRUS ALERT!

THIS IS A NEW TWIST. SOME CREEPOID SCAM-ARTIST IS SENDING OUT A VERY DESIRABLE SCREEN-SAVER {{THE BUD FROGS}}. IF YOU DOWNLOAD IT, YOU'LL LOSE EVERYTHING!!!! YOUR HARD DRIVE WILL <<>> CRASH!!

DON'T DOWNLOAD THIS UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES!!! IT JUST WENT INTOCIRCULATION ON 05/13/97, AS FAR AS I KNOW!! PLEASE DISTRIBUTE THIS WARNING TO AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE... BELOW IS WHAT THE SCREENSAVER PROGGIE WOULD LQQK LIKE!

File: BUDSAVER.EXE (24643 bytes) DL Time (28800 bps): < 1 minute

or

VIRUS WARNING !!!!!!!

If you receive an email titled "JOIN THE CREW" DO NOT open it. It will erase everything on your hard drive. Forward this letter out to as many people as you can. This is a new, very malicious virus and not many people know about it. This information was announced yesterday morning from IBM; please share it with everyone that might access the internet. Once again, pass this along to EVERYONE in your address book so that this may be stopped. Also, do not open or even look at any mail that says "RETURNED OR UNABLE TO DELIVER." This virus will attach itself to your computer components and render them useless. Immediately delete any mail items that say this. AOL has said that this is a very dangerous virus and that there is NO remedy for it at this time. Please practice cautionary measures and forward this to all your online friends ASAP.

The fact is, email itself doesn't contain a virus. It's simply the delivery mechanism. It works like this: someone attaches program file (".exe" or ".com") or a Word document (".doc") or an Excel spreadsheet (".xls") to email. You receive the email and open the attachment. The attachment activates its payload (the virus), and the damage begins.

Some advice:

  • NEVER open a program file attachment unless you know what it is. If you don't know what it is, or if you don't know who sent it to you, delete it.
  • Scan all downloaded files with an antivirus program like Symantec's Norton Antivirus or McAfee's Antivirus Program.
  • Keep all your important programs and documents backed up

For up to the minute verification of the hoax you get warned about via email, see: Symantec's Antivirus Center Hoaxes

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