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Those phrases look familiar? If you have an e-mail account, they should. That’s because those are the subject lines of just a few pieces of “spam,” or electronic junk mail, I–and some of you–have received.
Despite all the anti-spam software out there, despite the efforts of e-mail providers to stop spam, despite, indeed, an act of Congress (namely the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003), the relentless assault of spammers continues.
I’ve been tempted many times to give these spammers a piece of my mind. Unfortunately, they’re a highly sophisticated bunch. They usually falsify the electronic signatures and tracing information on the e-mails they send out, making it very difficult to track and reply to them.
And even if you could reply, they usually automate the entire process of spamming. So there’s no way a real person would read your response.
If anything, responding only confirms for spammers that your e-mail address works and guess what that means? The amount of spam you receive will increase, as they continue to bombard you with more junk and even sell your now validated e-mail address to other spammers.
So I figured the best I could do would be to mock them here and let you know a few ways you can take action.
For instance, the federal government has a place where they want you to send spam that appears to be deceptive in nature: firstname.lastname@example.org. For that matter, here are two government websites with more information on spam: http://www.onguardonline.gov and http://www.ftc.gov/spam/.
The best tip of all: don’t open obvious spam, don’t click on any links or pictures in spam, and NEVER, ever, ever buy anything from spam, it only encourages more spam.
Some of the worst kinds of spam involves a scam of some sort. The biggest scam you may have heard about is called “phishing.”
This is where you’re sent an officious, er, official-looking e-mail from a government agency, bank, credit card company or the like. The e-mail claims there is some sort of problem with your account and that you must click on the link in the e-mail to take you to their website, where they then hope you will enter your Social Security number and other sensitive information.
The websites look official as well. That’s because it–unfortunately–is very easy to copy websites.
But the truth is that unless you actually have an account with the institution in question, there’s no way they’d have your e-mail address. Also, when a genuine institution or agency sends you e-mail (only after you have given it to them in the first place), they will usually start the e-mail with your name. “Phishers” don’t know your name so they’ll start the e-mail with a generic greeting, such as “Dear Customer.”
Additionally, phishers’ e-mails are often rife with misspelled words and bad grammar (although they keep getting more sophisticated so look out ). When in doubt, go to the website in question on your own–not by clicking a link in an e-mail–in a new window.
Another common spam scam is a variation of a classic called the Nigerian 419 scam. This one started as a “snail mail” and fax scam a few decades ago and it took on new life with the advent of e-mail.
In a nutshell, the scam originates in Nigeria (or other countries, but usually in Africa). The e-mail is generically addressed to “Dear Friend” or something similar. In it, the letter writer claims that he/she/it has a small fortune and is willing to share it with lucky you–but there’s one itsy bitsy little catch.
You see, the poor little letter writer’s millions are stuck in some poor country and there’s no way to get them out. Except, of course, if they were to conduct a wire transfer to your banking account. In return, you get a share of this fortune. But only if you’d be so kind to hand over the particulars of your savings or checking account.
What happens to those who fall for this scam and its numerous variants is that the scam artists steal everything in their bank accounts, once they get their grubby little fingers on the victim’s bank account information.
These e-mails are written with laughably horrible grammar and spelling. Here’s a brief sample of one I got recently:
Subject: Awaitting your responce.
GREETINGS DEAR FREIND
My name is Aykumfrumalabama Wisabanjo Onmainee, one of the 58 sons of major Gen Gimmeall Yermoni, The late Nigeria’s former minister of correuption in the regime of the late former Nigeria’s military Head of state, Gen Smoki Hibachi.
He married my mother on the agreement that my mother, Aimina Deepdudu, will maintain her family’s name together with her children. Before he died in the German hospital on the 15th of November 1988 where he went to operate on the cancer of the knee, he fixed the Sum of $30,000.000.00 in the Central Bank of Nigeria under Intartrade Ventures Ltd on behalf of my mother. The 3 yrs maturity period placed on the money is due but the problem we are having now is that we lost the whole of the documents as a result of fire, which gutted our house 3 months ago.
These scammers have become fairly sophisticated so at this point in the e-mail they won’t come right out and ask for your banking info; they’ll just ask that you contact them. And if you do, look out: they will browbeat you until you give up your bank account number.
So, my dear reader(s), watch out for spam. Unless you’re like me, in which the canned version of Spam is delicious, in a sandwich fried with melted cheese on top. Mmmmmm!