Avoiding Email Scams

February 5, 2007 09:43 AM

Every day, e-mail hoaxes threaten to steal your credit card number, spread computer viruses, or put you on a spam list. There are e-mails that falsely warn of deadly computer viruses. Others play on personal fears – like the one that warns women about gang members cutting off their ankles at convenience stores.

Some tug at the heart, like the one about a 7-year-old cancer victim who gets 7 cents every time your forward her e-mail. Still others try to steal your money, by posing as your Internet service provider and requesting your billing information. Whether started by people with devious intentions or those seeking the thrill of seeing how far a rumor goes, thousands of these e-mail hoaxes circulate across the Internet. Stopping them is nearly impossible, as even the smartest people can be duped by false virus warnings and other hoaxes, especially as new people think they’re helping by passing them along.

The gullibility is to forward these things on, and that’s what keeps this hoaxes alive. People should check with their computer security administrator or an antiviral vendor before forwarding virus alert messages to other people. If one person decides to pass it along to co-workers at a 1,000-employee company, the e-mail can easily translate into hundreds more e-mails sent and received. The “forward to all” chain letters simply clog e-mail networks and allow spammers to glean legitimate e-mail addresses. They use them to send out junk mail and get-rich scams. Think carefully before forwarding any e-mail message.

Hackers can also collect these e-mail addresses and use them as a cover to avoid being tracked when they break into a computer system. “It’s like stealing your identity on the Net”. Scam artists also use e-mail to get to people’s bank accounts. Con artists will send out e-mails and pose as a person’s Internet service provider. They tell customers that their service will be discontinued unless they reaffirm their password and credit card number. Another e-mail ploy is one in which people receive a fake purchase order for an expensive item.

People are told to click on a link at the bottom of the e-mail if they did not make the purchase. Once they do, they are told that to cancel the so-called order, they must then fill out a form with their personal information and credit card number. People should also be careful of “Trojan viruses” hidden inside documents that appear to be April Fool’s Day jokes. Never download a file from people you are not expecting something from, especially if you don’t know the person. Although many of the “forward to all” messages may be benign, they can be painful to organizations and individuals whose names are falsely attributed to the e-mail.

Even if they were once true, e-mail chain letters never die. Take for instance the “missing child alert” that began circulating in 1999 to find a little girl by the name of Kelsey Brooke Jones. She had been missing one day and was found safe at a neighbor’s house. But the e-mail is still passed around the world. Once they’re started, they are virtually impossible to stop.

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