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SPAM, Scams, Malware, Hoaxes, Urban Legends & False Information

It's not easy to determine whether information on the Internet is legitimate or correct. There is a lot of inaccurate and deceitful information on web sites, in e-mails, and even in news and newsgroups. False information can occur from mistakes or oversights, but the biggest problem is information that is out of date.

Malicious information also exists on the web. Some examples are: products that don't really exist, fabricated news stories, misleading statistics or financial reports, false virus alerts, pyramid schemes, etc. Unsolicited email (SPAM) is the primary culprit in the dissemination of malicious information today. Many SPAM emails are actually SCAMS.

My best advice on the SPAM situation is DO NOT RESPOND (either with a reply or by clicking a link or by opening an attachment) to any email you get that is from a company or person that you have never heard of. I recommend liberal use of the DELETE key and learning to use the filters (or Rules) that come with your email program. Also beware of suspicious emails from companies you do know, especially if they do not use your real name. These may be "Phishing" scams which attempt to get you to reveal personal information which could be used for identity fraud.

Last modified 1/24/07


Here are some SCAMS currently making the rounds:

NEW! - I've been getting quite a few emails lately, supposedly from eBay, with the subject eBay New Unpaid Item Message from some fake user name. These are obvious scams, because they do not even remotely look like they came from eBay and they do not contain any real information about me or my account.

Similar emails come from companies (mostly banks) that I don't even have accounts with, saying that my account may be (or has been) closed. These too are obvious scams.

The other day I got an email with the headline "Activate with PayPal Mobile - You Could Be a Winner." but there were three things that led me to believe this is a scam. First the subject of the email was "Paypal Account Disput" which a) has nothing to do with the email - a good sign this was sent by someone with no brains, and b) has a typo - disput should have an e at the end - another good sign that the sender is bogus. Second, the From email address is very strange. It has two parts, which don't match (sece@pl.com and se@all.com), neither of which even look like they came from PayPal. Third, they claim to be giving away a whole bunch of prizes, just for activating your phone. I do not believe PayPal would do this. BTW, PayPal does offer this new Mobile service, but go directly to their website to sign up.

Ever wonder about all the emails you get for cheap stocks? I must get 30 a day, some as large attachments. Apparently these are a scam too (no big surprise!) Spammers are profiting from share manipulation by coaxing victims into investing in junk bonds. The spammers purchase cheap shares (which artificially raises the stock price) and sell them off as victim investment raises their value further. Internet security analyst firm Sophoslabs calls the spam technique a "stock, pump and dump campaign" and said it accounts for about 15% of all spam, up 5% from last year. Don't fall for these (or any) "too good to be true" offers in your email.

Password Changed scam - today I got an email that just read "Your password was successfully changed! Please see the attached file for detailed information." The attachment was a 111KB .zip file, which I am sure contains a virus or other malware. The sender did not even mention what password had been changed. This should be an obvious scam to anyone who receives it.

BBB scam - this scam works like this: You order something from a website and you get a reply saying that this transaction will be handheld by the "Better Business Insurance Program" which is described as the new BBB online payment system (it does not actually exist) . Next you get an email that appears to be an invoice from the BBB describing how they will hold the money until the transaction is complete and that you need to wire the money to some overseas bogus BBB account. Never wire money to anyone's account unless you have thoroughly checked them out.

VISA or MASTERCARD scam - if someone calls you from a credit card company and asks for any information on your credit card - especially the card number or the three verification numbers on the back of the card, do not give them any information on your credit card, get their name and number, hang up, and call your credit card's fraud department.

I just got the following email: Dear user of About-the-web.com, Our main mailing server will be temporary unavailable for next two days, to continue receiving mail in these days you have to configure our free auto-forwarding service. For details see the attach. For security purposes the attached file is password protected. Password is "11433". Kind regards, The About-the-web.com team. This email appears to have been sent from one of my email addresses to another one of my email addresses, but in reality it is a SPAM (by samuel james). I didn't open the zip file, because I'm pretty sure it contains a virus of some kind. This is just another illustration of how careful you need to be about opening attachments that are sent to you, no matter how legitimate they may sound.

FDIC "Patriot Act" Scam - this is another phishing scam that apparently comes from the FDIC and claims that Department of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge has advised the FDIC to suspend all deposit insurance on the recipient's bank account due to suspected violations of the USA PATRIOT Act. The email further indicates that deposit insurance will be suspended until personal identity, including bank account information, can be verified. DO NOT RESPOND to this or any other email that requests personal information like this. The FDIC would not use email for this purpose.

Foreign Certified Check Scams - if you are selling something, either on the Internet or even in your local newspaper, and receive a letter from a foreign buyer offering to pay you full price plus shipping via a certified check, BEWARE. The certified check may look good, but it is worthless. Be especially suspicious if the check they send is for more than the amount, and they request you send the overpayment to them via Western Union.

Lottery Scams - if you get a formal sounding email from some lottery or "award department" saying you have won some prize which you don't know anything about, do not respond. This is certainly a scam, especially if they ask for any personal information, such as a bank account.

PayPal Scam - The scam goes like this: You get an email that appears to be from PayPal explaining that they have had some computer problems and that they need you to log in to your account and make sure all your information is correct. The link they provide is not to the PayPal site however and any information you provide will be used for identity theft. The key to avoiding this scam is: DO NOT use the link contained in the email. Log in to PayPal using a bookmark or by typing directly into your browser. This is an example of a Phishing scam.

Beware of any business email that does not address you with your real name. It is most likely a phishing expedition.

Do Not Call Registries - If you get a call from someone claiming to represent one of the new Do-not-call registries (a list of people who do not want to be bothered by telemarketers), do not give them any personal information. There is no legitimate reason for anyone from one of these lists to call you. The scam is to get your personal information and then commit identity fraud.

Nigerian Fee Scam - There are hundreds of variations on this scam and people have reportedly lost many millions of dollars as well as, in some cases, their lives. If you receive an email from some foreign official offering to cut you in on what amounts to a money laundering scheme, immediately delete this email. Read more about this serious scam at www.scambusters.org/NigerianFee.html. In a new variation on the theme, the email comes from someone claiming to be with the US Special Forces in Afghanistan. Be very wary of anyone asking you to participate in any deal involving foreign money.

Bank of America Scam - This is one of several scams designed to get you to reveal personal information so the scammer can assume your identity and rip you off. If you get an email from Bank of America (or anyone for that matter) that instructs you to go to a web site and verify personal or financial information, DON'T DO IT! If someone - anyone - contacts you by phone or email, asking you for sensitive personal information, be very wary. Contact the company they claim to represent directly, using a phone number or email address from the company's Web site, and confirm the story. Never be in a rush to give out your information until you know it's safe.

eBay Scam - If you receive an email about an auction that you have not participated in, and there are instructions to visit a web site to cancel the order, don't do it. The purpose of this scam is to collect personal information including your social security number. eBay will never ask for this kind of personal information and does not send out emails of this nature.

SULFNBK.EXE Hoax - There's a hoax which quite a few people have been suckered into believing. If anyone tells you to look for the file SULFNBK.EXE and then delete it, DON'T. The file is a windows command file and it's supposed to be there. If you have already deleted it and it's still in your trash, you may be able to just hit "restore", if that doesn't work you might have to reload windows. Never delete anything unless you are 100% sure you know what it is.

JDBGMGR.EXE Hoax - There's a variation on the above theme making the rounds. This email tells you to delete a file called jdbgmgr.exe which is part of the Java software installed on all Windows systems. If deleted, its absence could cause some Java applets and JavaScript to stop working.

Here's a new one reportedly making the rounds:

IRS E-Audit Scam - If you receive an email that claims to be from the IRS that asks for personal information including your social security number, DO NOT RESPOND. The IRS will never contact you by email and you should never give out any personal information like credit card numbers, bank accounts or social security numbers in an email. If you receive this email, notify the IRS office in your area.

Here's another one that has been going around for awhile, that you should still watch out for:

PayPal Scam - PayPal account holders have been receiving an email that says someone has paid them money. The name usually used is Betty Hill. There is a link provided to log in to their account and collect the money. The web page that comes up looks like PayPal The victim then enters their ID and password. That is the purpose of the scam. The victim is NOT on the PayPal site but on a look-alike site. They have now given their id and password to a crook who will then log in to their PayPal account and take whatever they can. If you get this email, do NOT use the link to go to your account. Always enter the URL yourself or pull it down from your favorites. If you have already gone to the fake PayPal from the email, go to the real one and change your password immediately. Check that there are no unfamiliar transactions.

And another one that has cost many people a lot of money:

Phone Or Pager Scam - You receive a message on your answering machine or your pager which asks you to call a number beginning with area code 809. The reason you're asked to call varies: it can be to receive information about a family member who has been ill, to tell you someone has been arrested, died, to let you know you have won a wonderful prize, etc. In each case, you're told to call the 809 number right away. Since there are so many new area codes these days, people unknowingly return these calls. If you call from the US, you will apparently be charged $25 per-minute! Sometimes the person who answers the phone will speak broken English and pretend not to understand you. Other times, you'll just get a long recorded message. The point is, they will try to keep you on the phone as long as possible to increase the charges. Unfortunately, when you get your phone bill, you'll often be charged more than $100.00.

Here are some things you can do to protect yourself from false information:

  • Be aware of the possibility of false information. Read things carefully and completely, and remember that the information may not be accurate or reliable.
  • Stick to trusted sources that seem to have reliable information. Large newspapers or government websites are generally more trustworthy than personal sites.
  • Use multiple sources. Research several sources of information and then tend to trust what appears most frequently.
  • Watch for outdated information. When you come across information that contains data, look for a publishing date.

Check out these great consumer tips from the Better Business Bureau Online.

Email is one of the primary sources of scams on line. Here's a fairly old article written by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) called FTC Unveils "Dirty Dozen Spam Scams". Sadly, most of these scams are still persisting. I get emails like this every day and I'll bet you do too. Beware of anything you read in unsolicited email or SPAM (any information you did not specifically ask for.)

For information on a wide variety of scams, check out safefromscams.co.uk

Here's an old article by Bob Osgoodby on Red Flags to watch out for in email advertising (SPAM).

JunkBusters has a website devoted to educating people about what they can do about SPAM. Find out more at www.junkbusters.com/junkemail.html.

If you think you've been a victim of online fraud, now there's a way to report your experience. The FBI, the Department of Justice, and the National White Collar Crime Center have created the Internet Fraud Center . When you file a complaint, they'll forward it to the appropriate law-enforcement agencies. Also check out the Fraud Bureau, a free service, established to alert online consumers and investors of prior complaints relating to online vendors.

Protecting Yourself from Scams

What are the best ways to protect yourself against getting scammed online? (Courtesy of ScamBusters.org)

  1. Use common sense. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your gut feelings - especially when you have a bad feeling about an offer or a company.
  2. Don't ever respond to a bulk email. At least 95% of these "spams" are scams.
  3. If you want to buy something at an online auction, always check the references of the seller, and only buy from sellers who have good references. Almost all good auction sites have buyer and seller rating systems. If the item is more expensive than an amount you could comfortably lose, consider using an online escrow service like escrow.com. There is a fee, but it might be worth it to you.

ScamBusters.org is a good resource for checking out offers and e-mails that you think might me scams.

You should become familiar with the types of misleading claims that do exist. Keep in mind that SOME wealth-building plans, MLM businesses, or work-at-home opportunities are legitimate. Regardless, protect yourself by becoming educated to potential problems.

Here are some other good sites about "money making" scams on the Internet.

Click the following links to read several recommended FTC articles on scams:

If you have been victimized by a wealth-building or business opportunity promoter, contact your local consumer protection agency, Better Business Bureau, and state Attorney General. You also may file a complaint with the FTC. Write to: Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580

Although the FTC does not intervene in individual consumer disputes, the information you provide may indicate a pattern of possible law violations requiring action by the Commission.

You also may reach the National Fraud Information Center (NFIC) toll free at 1-800-876-7060, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Eastern time, Monday-Friday. The NFIC operates a consumer hotline to provide service and assistance in filing complaints.

If you are approached by someone looking to transfer a large amount of money (particularly from a foreign country), it is surely a scam. Delete these emails.

Definitely check out Quackwatch - Your Guide to Health Fraud, Quackery, and Intelligent Decisions

 

Hoaxes & Urban Legends

There are a lot of reports, usually in the form of e-mails, that sound like they could be true, but are not. If you get an e-mail or read a news report that you are at all unsure about, you should check one of the resources below to find out if you are dealing with a hoax or urban legend.

Many stories that sound like "news" are actually just rumors or "urban legends". Some are even true, but the suggested remedy, such as sending the e-mail on to everyone you know, is not a good idea and falls into the classification of "Junk" mail. About.com keeps a good list of current Internet Hoaxes, etc. They classify each one as SPECIAL (a real concern), a Hoax, an Urban Legend, a Rumor or Junk.

Typical hoaxes include a large percentage of computer viruses, chain letters, get rich quick schemes and appeals to send money. Some of these are jokes, but many are much more serious. Here are some examples:

  • Blush spider found under toilet seats
  • Cars without headlights on driven by gang members
  • Microsoft will pay you to test their software
  • Modem Tax hoax - despite the new Tax Freedom Act signed into law last Fall
  • Pluperfect Virus or Strunkenwhite Virus - supposedly would block all e-mail with grammatical or spelling errors in it
  • Pyramid schemes - people are asked to send money to those higher on the pyramid in promise of future riches
  • Virgins that were going to give up their virginity in front of web cameras

The biggest problem with hoaxes is that anytime you send out dozens or hundreds of e-mails to your friends, you tend to clog up the system. If everyone does it at the same time, it can shut down the Internet. This recently happened when a virus infected a lot of PCs and automatically sent emails to everyone in their address books.

Here are some good links about Hoaxes & Urban Legends:

Malware (Viruses, Trojan Horses, etc.)

As stated above, many hoaxes involve viruses or a special kind of virus known as a Trojan Horse. If you receive a notice about a possible computer virus, check it out first. Don't spread it by simply sending it to other people.

Here are some good sites to visit to see if the virus is a hoax.

There are tens of thousands of real computer viruses out there, so use virus protection software and backup your important files at least once a week.

This page based on an article written by Garth Catterall-Heart in 2000 and last ©2007.
For more about Garth see PhotosByGarth.com and Productivity-Software.com which offers
Time, expense and inventory tracking applications and Rental property management software
for self-employed professionals. Your free trial for Mac and Windows includes customer support.

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