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problem is information that is out of date.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 (firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.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
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. 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
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.
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
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)
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
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)
- 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.
- Don't ever respond to a bulk email. At least 95% of these "spams"
- 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.
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
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
- 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
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
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.