by Gayle Lynds
This morning I looked away from my email and told my husband, “I’m in spam hell.” A tiny exaggeration, but perhaps you know what I mean. Enough already!
For several years I’ve had a terrific spam catcher that removed all of the worst attempts to infect my online life. I was protected. But then a couple of weeks ago I started getting phone calls from friends and colleagues asking whether I’d received emails they’d sent.
Oh, dear. No, I hadn’t!
Worried, I visited my spam filter. Turns out, it’d gotten too enthusiastic and was trapping not only spam but also emails from perfectly respectable folks and organizations.
So now every morning I force myself to open my spam catcher’s 24-hour intake. It’s crammed with details like when the email arrived, the sender’s supposed identity, and why the email’s been quarantined. As I read the information, my eyes swim with nonsense words and weird come-ons and long numbers with lots of hyphens.
Part of the struggle is that although most of it’s junk, my brain can’t seem to resist trying to make sense of it.
As a result, I read all of it slowly to catch legitimate emails so I can “whitelist” the senders and route their notes into my inbox. When I first started this routine, I was impatient and irritated. Lately, amazingly, I’m finding it interesting.
For instance, a decade ago spam was mostly about Viagra, Cialis, pornography, and invitations to hook up. Now it’s more clearly about money and data – mine and yours, which the spammer is trying to trick us into revealing through phishing, spoofing, outright thievery, and assorted other crimes. (I’m going to give you some suggestions about how to handle these problems in a moment.)
Buyer beware! Here are some of the “gems” I’ve discovered in my spam filter.
● “Ohh, are you an ancient god?…”
Seriously? Yes, the above is the subject line of my first spam of the day. My peevish response: “No, you nincompoop, I’m a modern goddess!” You’ll notice the sender has my attention. What would happen if I actually opened the email and responded to whatever further temptations lay within?
Analysis: phishing. A “phishing” email lures you into divulging your login credentials — your username and password — through convincing emails and links to web pages. These phishing emails and fake websites can resemble legitimate credit authorities like Citibank, eBay, or PayPal. Spam emails frighten, entice, or aggravate you into clicking on a link that delivers you to the phony web page so that you’ll enter your ID and password. If an email seems suspicious to you, do NOT trust it. Delete it! —LifeWire.com
● “Men Drugs Shop”
I’m confused … Does this mean men are being drugged, or are men offering to drug me? But the title has made me pause. And perhaps do more….
Be sure to look at the domain of the URL address in any questionable email. Is it sending you to a legitimate domain owned by a legitimate institution? A lot of times the URL is not to the official site domain. When in doubt, phone the institution to verify the email’s authenticity. Don’t click on it. Being skeptical could save you a lot of money, time, and hassle. —LifeWire.com
● “REPLY AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!”
This is a family-friendly blog. I cannot reply to this obvious come-on with what I’m really thinking.
A common ruse is an urgent need to “confirm your identity.” The message will even offer you a story of how your account has been attacked by hackers to trick you into divulging your confidential information. —LifeWire.com
● “Investment Company”
At first glance, this looked legitimate, but then I saw the return address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Molding Women for Good????? And you’re sending this to me, who knows how to assassinate bad guys in at least 100 different ways? YOU ARE A BAD GUY. Duh.
Avoiding Phishing Scams. Check the legitimacy of a link to a supposedly secure site by making certain its URL address begins with https:// (note the “s” after http). Phishing fakes will often just have http:// (no “s”). —LifeWire.com
● “Donation of $2,500,000.00″
I always drool a bit at the notion of getting a financial windfall. I’m human (weak?) that way, but when it comes to handing out my social security number, giving someone co-signing power on a banking account, or sending $10,000 in earnest money to the “lawyer” representing some person or place that promises to give me more money than the budget of an entire American village, I sense I’m about to be had.
In every variation, the scammer is promising obscenely large payments. This money transfer con game is too good to be true, yet people still fall for it. The scammers will use your emotions and willingness to help others, against you. They will promise you a large cut of their business or family fortune. In exchange they ask you to cover endless “legal” and other “fees” that they claim must be paid to the people who can release the fictional fortune. The more you pay, the more they will scam out of you. You will never see any of the promised money because there isn’t any. This scam isn’t even new; its variant dates back to 1920s when it was known as “The Spanish Prisoner” con. To save yourself, delete the email. Now! —LifeWire.com
In an effort to squeeze this lemon of a situation into writerly gold, here’s information aimed at making your online life safer and more pleasant, with thanks to ITBusinessEdge.com….
If you receive an email that you think may be a scam:
Forward it to the FTC at email@example.com
Forward it to the abuse desk of the sender’s ISP.
Also, if the email appears to be impersonating a bank or other company or organization, forward the message to the actual organization.
If you think you may have responded to an email that may be a scam:
File a report with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/complaint.
Report it to your state Attorney General, using contact information at naag.org.
Then visit the FTC’s identity theft website at ftc.gov/idtheft. While you can’t completely control whether you will become a victim of identity theft, you can take some steps to minimize your risk.
Great blog! "Spam" reminds me of when I was a kid and my mother forced it down my throat!
I'm sure we all receive "questionable" and "quarantined" emails from bad guys, especially "professional" phishing operations. A computer expert recently explained that one of the worst outfits sends you a computer generated email (that goes to thousands and thousands of email addresses) saying they have captured your password and tell you what it is – (which means they DID capture it from a site you have visited) – they then say they have access to your entire contact list and you must send then bitcoins. He advises you to change your passwords and ignore their demands. What an awful racket! Thanks, Gayle for your many great tips here….Karna Bodman
Love the "I'm a modern goddess" response! And thanks for the tips to combat it. I sent copies of the spam posts (the money transfer game you mention) to the Cox Communications phishing report center and they were wonderful! Got back to me and blocked them within a week.
I think my favorite are always the millions that someone is willing to split with me–should I be kind enough to offer them the use of my bank account. Honestly, how could anyone fall for that? Clearly someone must, because they continue to be sent.
Now I have to Google The Spanish Prisoner…!
Yuck yuck yuck! Why didn't I think of that analogy? (Perhaps I should be glad?) 🙂
I hadn't heard about that awful wrinkle — spammers alerting us about our passwords, then naming them. Argh! Thank you, Karna, for this important info!
That's an incredible response from Cox. Good for them, and grateful you alerted us that something actually worked!
Yep, Robin, it's sad that so many people are taken advantage of. If it never happen, the spammers would stop, but they'd probably figure out some other way to take advantage of us. Bad guys, bad guys!
I know, what a tale! 🙂