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Monday, September 6, 2010

Email Spam and You

(WARNING TO READERS:  This entry may contain adult content, language, and some sexual content not suitable for minors under the age of 18!)

Howdy, folks!  I thought I'd follow up to an earlier blog entry concerning emails, and go a little bit into SPAM messages.  We all know what they are, and we all hate spam, but some people around the world are constantly being duped by these false promising emails.  What can you do to protect yourself and avoid being a victim?  What are some of the tools that anyone can use to avoid being tricked by someone in Nigeria or Libya?  Do you have recourse if you've become an unfortunate victim?  We'll go over some of those questions, and cover some basic practices that should be used on a routine basis.

First off, what is a spam email message?  What does it look like?  A spam email message, for the most part, is an attempt to lure you into either a false product, service, or trapping you into a financial nightmare.  Some spam email is designed to exploit a sexual desire, or perhaps a financial ambition, but ultimately, they are designed to scam you, and leave you high and dry.  Secondly, preventing spam is a lot like preventing the sun from rising to start the day.  You just simply can't stop it, but there are ways to either avoid it, or at the least spot when one is attempting to "dupe" you into its lure.  Lastly, if you've been duped, DON'T PANIC!!  That's the worst thing anyone can do in any situation.  Calm down, realize that there could be a potential mess ahead, and focus on one problem at a time.  This will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Let's talk a little bit about some of the more common spam messages that are received DAILY!!  There are three main categories of spam email messages.  There's 1) Financial spam, 2) sexual spam, and 3) prize spam.  Each of these categories have a few things in common, they all want YOU to THINK that you NEED one of these things, or that YOU are stupid enough to think it's genuine.  They also want your money, and they also want to scam everyone you know out of their money too.

1) Sexual Spam - These should be obvious!  They'll promise to make your dick bigger, harder, longer than ever before, or they'll promise that your girlfriend or wife will be satisfied with the "results" for weeks and months, if not years.  Or perhaps you've been a bit lonely, and the messages will offer companionship of a sexual nature with the message title of "Fuck local women today!"  I would hope that these can be spotted without any blink of an eye at all.  Remember, these messages want YOU to THINK you need their services, products from a sexual standpoint.  Unless you're just that freakin' horny, you really don't need their help, and you especially don't need to waste your money.

2) Financial Spam - These are the messages that some people still have difficulty discerning from the real deal.  There's a simple rule on this one.  If it sounds too good to be true, IT IS!!  There's no exceptions, no "ifs", "ands", or "buts".  The plain and obvious truth is your bank didn't make that kind of error where you'd get millions, or that a deposit of millions has occurred and the bank wants you to verify this.  There's also one going around where it acts as though it's from an official bank message system (usually Bank of America, Wells Fargo, etc) and that a problem with your account occurred, and they want YOUR information to correct it.  First off, your bank already has your information, so there should be no need to re-enter it, and secondly, a bank will never ask you to enter information on a web-based form.  If you feel this might be a legit message, call your bank or financial institution to check.  NEVER enter any information of any kind on a web-based form, period.  If your bank asks you to do this, politely decline and ask for a standard paper form!  Another popular spam message going around is (supposedly) from Paypal.  A couple of good ways to tell if it's a fake is 1) spelling - sometimes spammers get so excited that someone might actually be dumb enough to fall for their lure, they get careless with common words.  This is a good indicator that something may be "fishy" with the email (hence the term "Phishing"), and 2) Check the links - Most email programs, and even AOL users have the feature where if you simply move your mouse over the link (DO NOT click on it), it should tell you what address (URL) it will open.

3) Prize Spam - These spam messages are damned clever if you ask me.  They'll try to convince you that you've won an Xbox, PS3, desktop computer, laptop (netbook/notebook) PC, or that you've won $1 million in some sort of contest.  Again, these should be obvious ploys.  First, unless you really did enter contests, it's safe to assume these are false in any capacity.  And even if you did sign up for a contest, chances are you'd either get something in the mail, or receive a phone call notification of your winnings.  Second, just like the financial spam messages, these too will have grammatical and spelling errors that should be the most blatant indicators of a spam message.  Even some of the email addresses, web addresses, etc will have something wrong with them.  For example, earlier today, I checked a message that my mother received supposedly from PayPal saying she had gotten a credit.  Upon careful examination of the email, I determined that it was false.  Everything looked legit on it, except when it came to looking at who it came from.  The email address was the giveaway when it read "service@paypal.comt"!  Notice anything wrong?  Looks official right?  You'd be wrong.  The extra "t" at the end of the ".com" is there.  Most of the time, messages from PayPal and other like companies will have been auto-generated, meaning it's the same address each and every time.  Remember one of my previous blogs says that computers don't make mistakes, people do.  In this case, when people make mistakes, it can either cost the victim, or the would-be suspect.  With this scenario, the would-be suspect lost, because he or she chose to ignore simple errors thinking that my mother would be dumb enough to fall for it.

Sometimes a spam email message can be very tricky in determining if it's a real message or something designed to lure you.  Here are some general tips to remember when it comes to Spam emails!

1) Sounds Too Good - Common sense will dictate a very simple rule.  If it sounds too good to be true, IT IS!!  I think I speak for every computer tech out there who probably has it screaming in their heads when I say "DON'T OPEN IT!!  JUST DELETE IT!"  Seriously for a moment, if there's any sort of doubt in your mind as to the legitimacy of an email, and I mean any doubt at all, it's best to go on that doubt and delete the message.  Don't even give it any of your time or thought.

2) Check and Double Check - Again, going back to checking the validity of emails.  If you really think it may have come from a legitimate source, it's best to contact that source by alternative means, either from that source's official website, email contact address, or by phone.  Probably best to just use your phone, period.  Don't even give it a second thought.  It's best to be safe than to be sorry!!

3) Different Email, Same Name - Oh, this is one of the more clever practices of spammers.  They'll try to guess the name of your friend to make it seem trustworthy.  Don't be fooled.  Check the email address against the one you know from your friend.  If they don't match, delete the email.  There's one exception to this, and that exception is that your friend might have actually changed their email address.  Check with your friend BY PHONE!  The worst that happens is that they have to resend the email, and you would have to add them to a sort of "Safe Contacts" list.  There are instances when you'll get an email that looks like it's from a friend, but the name will be sort of misspelled.  Again, use a bit of logic, and check with your friend by phone, but if there's any small doubt in your mind, just delete it.

4) Unsubscribe - Some spam messages give you the option to unsubscribe.  This would be a useful idea if it weren't for the fact that 98% of the time it doesn't work, and actually gives companies your email address to send even more spam to.  Until it becomes a federal crime to send spam messages, the unsubscribe function in a spam message is about as useless as a ordinary condom on "Superman".  You can have him put it on, but realistically, it's just for decoration and nothing else.

5) Emailing directly - Some of us have actually gone and done the stupid thing and emailed the spamming offender directly.  Bad idea.  Again, it gives them your email address to spam to even more, and again, it's just a useless idea.  Sure, you'll get your point across, but let's be honest here.  They're not going to give a shit.

6) Contacting authorities - Let's just say that contacting authorities really doesn't provide relief, or any sort of results unless an actual crime has been committed.  And since sending Spam messages isn't exactly illegal, there's nothing any law enforcement agency can do.  Best to not even try.

For the most part, if you use common sense and logic, most of the spam messages you receive will be easily spotted, and you can take the appropriate action of deleting them.  But what if you do get trapped in a scam? Is there any sort of recourse one can take?  Before I close this entry, I want to briefly touch on some advice.

1) DON'T PANIC!! - This is about the worst thing anyone can do in any situation.  Try not to panic, and realize that while there may not be much you can do, you can however try to reduce the impact.  Write down what happened, and keep it to the point so that when you file that police report, you can stick to the facts.

2) Focus - Focus on the main problem, and realize that for each small step you take to recovery, it's going to be toward resolving the main problem.

3) Tackle the smaller things - Because of the complexity of being scammed, it can feel overwhelming, even when it comes to simple things like calling your bank, or filing the police report, etc.  Don't try to tackle it all at once.

4) Get an advocate - If you feel you are getting no where with police, your bank, your creditors, etc, you may need the services of an advocate.  Not quite an attorney, but someone who can speak on your behalf to resolve matters related to identity theft and financial scams.  Though, I will admit that hiring an attorney can be just as helpful, if not more-so, since attorneys have legal authority in some of the more complex matters.

Have a comment? Suggestion? A topic you'd like to have discussed on my blog? Email me at halfblind79@gmail.com. And if I don't know the answer, I'll post up information on who to ask, where to go, or what to do to get your answer. :) Until then, have a great day, and I hope you've enjoyed reading my computer tips so far!