Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How to Not Fall For Certain Email Spams and Scams

For many of you out there, I trust in your wisdom in regards to dealing with, or not getting tricked into replying to scam emails or clicking on links within what looks like valid emails or webpages.  This note is for the rather new web surfer who has a brand new web presence, a new email address that gets no spam and what not.  Ah, the good 'ol days.

For those of you new to this 'net thing, there are a few things you should be aware of to help protect yourself against web evil-doers.

Scammers and spammers and other cretins have various techniques to try and trick you into doing something they want you to.  I'm here to help in some small way to make you aware of some of these tricks.

For one...  If you get an email from FedEx, UPS, the USPS or other such well known entity, and that email suggests a tracking number with a link included, don't.   Don't click the link.  For one, you can highlight the tracking number and do a Google search on it.  If you have a valid tracking number, they tend to come up in the search results.  The other aspect to consider, if you think about it, is how in the bloody heck would they (the delivery services) know your email address?

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Another trick used is to send very official looking emails from corporations, the government or even law enforcement agencies.  The more common trick tried is sending you an email from your bank or internet service provider, asking you to log in to provide and verify specific information.

Don't click the link, no matter how good it looks.  It will redirect you to a great looking website.  They even might have all the right pages from the real website set up.  Don't reply to the email, no matter how valid it looks. Don't sign into these webpages.

These folks can make pretty good looking websites or emails that might suck you in.  Sometimes, they might even use your name in the email.  Most organizations don't ask for some specific or pertinent information.  If you think that the email is a valid email, this organization probably has an internal message center.  For instance, whatever is sent to me, I can go and open a different web browser window, go to my bank's website and log in.  If they've sent me information, it will be in my notifications bar.

If the "police" are contacting you, close the email out and call the supposed law enforcement agency that is "supposedly" trying to contact you.  It's not that hard to take a few extra steps to do things safely.

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Here's where I'm pretty harsh, but I don't open things from my friends of family in email.  I've made it clear to most everyone I don't do attachments.  I don't care who they trust that sent it to them.  Some years back, my "grandmother" tried to delete my entire hard drive.

It's too easy to farm email addresses and then send real looking emails.

Just recently I was sent an email about a buddy named John.  It was from his college, looking to verify some information for a thesis he was writing.  (Or something to that affect.)  Instead of replying, since I had not heard of this effort on his part, I closed out that email, opened a new one and sent him an email asking it this was real and/or if he sent it.

Sometimes it's easy to tell a spammed email.  If the words in the link say www.google.com, but when you hover your mouse over the link and look at the web address preview window at the bottom of your browser and it does not read exactly like it looks, then it's more than likely bogus.  If it's not, you then took a few moments to educate yourself, (once you figure it out) and you are suddenly more the web surfing expert than you were 5 minutes ago.

(I got tripped up by YouTube's new link shortening scheme.  I had never seen it before and it looked funky.  I later found it was real, but hey, I'd rather be safe and keep all my info than not!  Right?)

And honestly, sometimes it's silly how simple of a password some folks use to protect their stuff.  Keep it obscure, as far as passwords go and don't use anything that's obviously related to you.  That info is too easy to snag.

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Internet warnings are all the rage.  But 99% of them are bogus crap that want you to forward an email to "all" your friends.  And as soon as you do, someone else gets your email address book.  HTML and email mechanisms are too easy to make tricky.  Have you ever wondered how it is you can send or forward something to 10 people and get some fancy doodle show up on your screen? 

If you get a warning, rather than forward it, go to snopes.com and check it out.  There are other sites like snopes, like urbanlegends or truthorfiction, but snopes seems to be the reigning database of idiocy.  One of their more popular pieces on the site are these great items:

 Nigerian Scam
A wealthy foreigner who needs help moving millions of dollars from his homeland promises a hefty percentage of this fortune as a reward for assisting him.

Foreign Lottery Scam
Announcements inform recipients that they've won large sums of money in foreign lotteries.

Secret Shopper Scam
Advertisers seek applicants for paid positions as 'secret' or 'mystery' shoppers.

Work-at-Home Scam
Advertisers offer kits that enable home workers to make money posting links on the Internet.

Family Member in Distress Scam
Scammers impersonate distressed family members in desperate need of money.
Read more at http://www.snopes.com/fraud/topscams.asp#TZ6C4r75b5yxYys1.99

Here are their latest, top-25 scam/hoxes:  http://www.snopes.com/info/top25uls.asp

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Actually, spending a few minutes on Snopes will sort of show you what's up out there.

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There are many other variations on what I've touched on, but the bottom line is that it isn't that hard to take an extra minute, open up a new window or email and go directly to the site in question, or outside that first email chain, verify with your email sender, that they did send you something.  (And don't send me attachments, I don't do attachments!  I love the, "it's from a trusted buddy who trusted a buddy who got it from a good source" line.)

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Play it safe.  Keep it smart with good passwords that you change every 6 months or so and you're web experience will be more fun than trauma.

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Hi - sorry for the confirmation but I need to weed out the noise from the well intended comments. Thanks for leaving a note... - Bruce