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Library > Articles > The Internet > 022

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Spam, Spamming, and Scams
Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable


Email is among the most commonly used communications medium on the planet and it's a frustrating fact of online life that if you have an email address, you will be sent Spam. This article highlights the most likely reasons for receiving Spam, and the kinds of scams that are commonly practiced using Spam.

Your First Action: Delete

Don't open an email message with an attachment from people you don't know or recognise, delete it. Spam is at best dubious and most often fraudulent. Many appear to come from a well known source. An example of a Spam email claiming to be sent by AbleStable follows (if you have inadvertently opened an attachment from a Spam email, go to http://securityresponse.symantec.com/ where you will find information about the latest security fixes)


SPAM EMAIL MESSAGE
Subject: Warning about your e-mail account.
From: management@ablestable.com

Dear user, the management of Ablestable.com mailing system wants to let you know that, Our main mailing server will be temporary unavailable for next two days, to continue receiving mail in these days you have to configure our free auto-forwarding service.

Please, read the attach for further details. For security purposes the attached file is password protected. Password is "67282".

Best wishes,
The Ablestable.com team

http://www.ablestable.com

Content-Type: application/octet-stream; name="Attach.zip"
Content-Transfer-Encoding: base64
Content-Disposition: attachment; filename="Attach.zip"


There was nothing wrong with AbleStable's mailing system, we have never sent an email like this, nor an attachment named 'Attach.zip'. The Spammers used our address along with thousands of other companies to undermine confidence and to infect computer systems.

Spam Indicators

Below you'll find six points that highlight how the example email above could be recognised as Spam:

The salutation '
Dear user' is generic.
There are grammatical errors:
'...for next two days...'
The letter case is incorrect:
'...wants to let you know that, Our main mailing...'
The email requests certain actions: '...configure our free auto-forwarding service...'
There's an invitation to open an attachment:
'...read the attach for further details...'
The attachment has a generic name:
Attach.zip

This is just one of many types of Spam that is sent. Another common example appears to be an e-mail greeting card but is actually a scam that downloads mass mailing software onto the user's computer that does the spammers' work for them.

Most Spam is mass-marketing, and the return on spam is about .0001 per cent. As hundreds of millions of messages are sent out, using an unsuspecting corporate network, or simply piggy-backing onto an individual's email client to carry the cost is a very effective marketing tool for the unscrupulous. Once again the best advice is to never open an attachment unless you are absolutely certain who it's from and what it's likely contents are.

The Usual Suspects

The most common email scams follow:

Get Healthy

Cure an ill, get fit, and stay healthy by popping a pill. Don't waste your money.

Get Rich

An email promises earnings of $1,000 a day and upwards claiming that the business doesn't involve selling, meetings, or personal contact with others. The majority of these emails tempt the user into illegal pyramid schemes masquerading as legitimate opportunities to earn money.

Get Turned On

Pornography is one of the biggest revenue earners on the Internet, and the operators of porn sites are among the biggest users of spam. Many Spam emails attempt to lure people to subscribing to a pornography site or service. Never pass on card details or any other personally identifiable information (name, email address etc) to a company or individual you know nothing about.

Market to Millions

Buy a list of email addresses to which you can send your own bulk solicitations. Buy software that automates the sending of email messages to thousands or millions of recipients, or pay for a service that sends bulk email solicitations on your behalf. It is highly unlikely these email lists have been obtained legally. It is very likely these scams will get you into trouble as you become blacklisted as a Spammer and the focus of criminal prosecution.

Follow The Chain

Send a small amount of money, say $5, to each of four or five names on a list, replace one of the names on the list with your own, and then forward the revised message via bulk email. Chain letters are almost always illegal, and nearly all of the people who participate in them lose their money.

Work From Home

Do a simple task and get paid. Don't trust an unsolicited email that promises you'll make a shed load of money working from home, it doesn't happen. You'll have to pay an 'enrolment fee' and you'll never see it again.

Get Something for Nothing

Reply to an email and get some valuable goods: a free holiday, TV, car etc. You're asked to pay a fee to join a club, then told that to earn the offered goods, you have to bring in a certain number of participants. They're pyramid schemes that inevitably collapse.

Enjoy Guaranteed Loans and Credit

Get a credit card at an all time low interest rate and great terms. You're asked for personal information that will be used illegally and the promised credit cards will never arrive.

Spamming Methods

Whenever I pay for something online, it's guaranteed that my junk emails increase shortly afterwards, this despite the fact that I'm very choosy about who I buy online from, and the assurance that my email address will be safely locked away from the prying eyes of others.

There are many other ways in which spammers acquire your email address:

From posts to UseNet with your email address
From Mailing Lists (illegally sold by the list owner)
From programs which spider through web pages looking for email addresses
From various web and paper forms
From printed material email addresses (eg. professional directories etc)
From Domain name registration forms
From some chat clients on PCs using IRC
Via Internet Browsers (dependant on configuration and browser type)
From IRC and chat rooms
AOL chat rooms
AOL profiles
From domain contact points ('who-is' information)
By guessing & cleaning
From white and yellow pages
By having access to the same computer
From a previous owner of the email address
Buying lists from others
By hacking into sites
From Domain Name Monitoring
From fake Unsubscribe Invitations
From Virus Harvesting

Combating Spam

Use a different email account for buying products online. Keep your preferred email address (private) for personal use between friends and family, and create a new email account (public) for online purchases and form filling. Be disciplined and stick to this.

Don't make your 'private' email address public. If you run a website, use an online form, instead of your email address. If you like to post messages on forums, make sure people don't have access to your private email address. Furthermore, if you post messages to Newsgroups (Usenet), use your 'public' email address.

When your bank or companies request your email address to be entered on a paper form, provide your 'public' email address.

Spam and UK Law

The unregulated and increasing processing of personal data, including email addresses, caused sufficient concern for the EU to pass the Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC) in the mid 1990s. This established that the processing and storage of personal information must be carried out with consent of the individual and with regard to the individual’s rights to privacy.

The provisions of this directive were passed into UK law with the 1998 Data Protection Act of which AbleStable is a registered participant. The EU Electronic Commerce Directive (2000/31/EC), which was integrated into UK law as the Electronic Commerce Regulations 2002-2007, clearly states that ‘[the sender] shall ensure that any unsolicited commercial communication sent by him by electronic mail is clearly and unambiguously identifiable.’ This law renders all spam that attempts to masquerade as legitimate email illegal.

A further tightening of the regulatory framework was introduced in the Privacy and Electronic Regulations 2002-2007, implementing EU directive 2002-2007/58/EC. This law prevents the sending of unsolicited email ‘unless the recipient of the electronic mail has previously notified the sender that he consents’.

Conclusion

Anyone who uses the Internet and sends email will receive Spam. Although I use a virus filter, I don't use a Spam filter. I still prefer to see what's been sent to my email box and filter it myself while the email still sits safely on the server. Scanning the address of the sender and subject gives enough information about the likely source. If I'm curious I view the text element without requesting the attachment. You can do the same by downloading the Freeware program Popcorn available from our Freeware Area.

Whether you filter manually, trust a Spam filter to do the job for you, or risk all and allow the Spammers to flood your in-box, Spam will continue to be a burden on the Internet until new technologies make all but the most sophisticated Spammers leave for easier pickings. Be savvy about Spam, it's a part of every net citizen's daily experience, like countless germs floating in the ether waiting for a victim.

     
       
 
Contributor Information


Mike de Sousa is the Director of
AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author.

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