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6 types of email con
Adam Provis, May 23, 2011
Most email cons can be split into the following categories- be sure that you can spot them.
The Nigerian scam (419)
This type of scam is named after the section of the Nigerian penal code which addresses fraud schemes. It will tell you that some long lost aunt, a rich business man or some other fictitious person is trying to move money out of the country. It will ask that you to act as an intermediary and will offer to pay you an enormous amount of cash as a commission. During the process you will be asked to part with much smaller amounts of money to pay licences, bribe officials or whatever- of course you will never see the big money as it doesn’t exist. It is a wonder that these scams ever work but I assume they do because they keep on coming. These scams can be quite specific and tailor made for your market, your location or even you personally. Follow the first rule: if it seems too good to be true it is. If you want a laugh go to 419 Eater where you can read correspondence of people that have tried to scam the scammers.
Phishing and fake web pages
You get an email from your bank saying something that you have to do online. This can be changing your email, read a secure message, indeed anything that requires you to log into your bank online to do. They will provis a link that looks genuine for you to click on and log in- don’t click it! This link will take you to a page which looks just like your bank’s login page but isn’t, it is the scammers page. Once you enter your username and password it will record this information and then send you to your real bank page with an error that ‘you entered your password incorrectly’. Thinking that you typed in your password wrongly you try again and this time it works. However, now the scammer has got your login details and can clean out your account. Other variations of this include Paypal, eBay and even email accounts. Always type the url into the browser rather than click a link before logging on somewhere and always check that the address at the top of the browser is the correct address and starts with https:// to show that it is a secure connection.
Items for sale scam
This occurs when you advertise a high value item for sale such as a car or jewelry. This can be in a local paper, an online advertisement or on eBay. You receive an offer, normally from abroad, for your item but since there are increased shipping costs involved the buyer offers to pay all of the extra shipping and more- even once you account for the extra shipping, insurance and hassle you calculate that this is a very good offer. You will receive payment using a wire transfer such as Western Union and ship the goods. The problem comes when the payment is reversed- many of these wired payments can be reversed weeks or even months after they are issued meaning that the money will be taken back by your bank and you are left with nothing but a large shipping bill. Bear in mind how money is paid to you when selling online and find out how long the transaction clearing window is before you part with your stuff.
Disaster relief scams
Most people would have seen this one after recent disasters such as the Haiti earthquake or the Japanease tsunami. The email claims to be from a charity asking you to donate money to the cause, of course none of that money will ever reach the victims of the disaster. Never donate money from an email that you receive- instead, find a reputable charity or an international organisation that you know and trust and donate to them. In addition, be careful of the hybrid of this style of scam with the phishing scam. You may see a link purporting to be from the Red Cross with a link to their website where you can donate; the link will go to a website which looks like the Red Cross but isn’t!
Get rich quick and chain emails
These schemes have been around long before email but, due to the low cost of electronic communication over the postal service they have become far more widespread. There are so many varieties of these scams; some will ask you to invest into a pyramid scheme (the winners being only the creators of the pyramid itself), some will offer you work from home which pays more than the chairman of RBS, some will sell an ebook about how to get rich quick on the internet. If it is too good to be true it is- and doubly so on the internet.
Finally there are the Trojans. You know the story of the Trojan horse- a big present left at the gates of a fortress as a present from their mortal enemies? After taking this strange gift inside the gates, the small garrison inside the horse took out the guards and opened the gates to the rest of the army. When we hear this story we ask “Why the hell didn’t they think that might be a trick?”. People are far more inquisitive than sensible and that’s why people open email attachments without thinking about what they might be. Once opened, this little program can unlock your computer from the inside, communicate back to its masters to load any software they like onto your machine such as key loggers (to get all of your passwords for your bank, email, company etc.), use your machine as a ‘net bot’ for hacking into other systems and forward similar emails to everyone that you know in the hope that they like wooden horses too.
This technique isn’t just restricted to email. One of the cleverest ones that I heard of was leaving USB pen drives on the ground in company car parks. Someone will find it and naturally think that someone has dropped it on the way into work. They go into their office, put it into their machine and try to work out who owns it by opening some of the files… in the meantime, the annonymous criminal has gained access to the inside of the company’s network.
The best protection against this is to have up to date anti-virus software with a firewall and a spyware checker. It may seem like an additional expense that you don’t need but you wouldn’t think that once your back account is cleaned out. In addition, be careful about opening attachments even if they are from someone you know- they may not have sent it! If you’re unsure of an attachment, mail them back and ask them if they sent it before opening it up.
There are of course many more scams which I haven’t mentioned but I think this covers the main areas. If you know of any more that I have missed, please let me know in the comment box below.
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