Security Corner

Jul 7 2010   12:42AM GMT

How to Recognize and Avoid Email Scams–Part 2

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

In Part 1, I presented the FTC’s list of the 12 most common email scams and a few of their tips for protecting yourself. In this issue, we’ll explore email scams in more detail and repeat the tips for how to avoid them.

As we learned, email scams continue because they are profitable. Savvy scammers can send out millions of emails per day and even if just a small percentage of people are duped, the numbers can be huge. Obviously, you don’t want to be a victim, but some of those emails can be very convincing; how can you recognize a scam? As always, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. Let’s look at some actual examples, many of which are being caught by my email spam filters.

Business Opportunity Scams

Most of these scams promise a lot of income for a small investment of time and money. Here’s one I get almost every day:

Subject: ***Automated Money Making System – set up it ONCE – forget about it and make money EVERY day***
From: “Giedrius”
Date: Mon, 1 Jun 2009 15:17:36 +0300
To: <xxx@xxxx>

Dear Internet Friend,

Find out the completely automated twitter growth & money making system for people that want to set up a system ONCE, forget about it, and have it grow and make money EVERY day!

Sounds tempting, doesn’t it? Just set up your Twitter account to do this and get rich – Not! A couple of things stand out: 1). I don’t know anybody by the name of “Giedrius” and 2). I’ve never done business in Lithuania (.lt). My spam filter caught this, but not everyone is as lucky.

Work At Home Schemes

E-mail messages offer the chance to earn money in the comfort of your own home.
Here’s one:

Subject: 400 tested “Work at Home” websites
From: “WEB Review Agency”
Date: Sun, 31 May 2009 20:10:19 -0400
To: <xxx@xxxx>

See instructions above to stop receiving announcements from this advertiser.
This announcement is sent via your permission from a partner site.
To stop further announcements:

Or Write:
Pacific Valley West, LLC
375 N. Stephanie St., Suite 1411
Henderson, NV 89014

That’s a real street address, but no “partner sites” I belong to have permission to send me anything unsolicited. Completely bogus.

Easy Money

These are similar to Business Opportunities scams which often tout the ease of getting into the business. Offers such as “Learn how to make $4,000 in one day,” or “Make unlimited profits exchanging money on world currency markets,” appeal to the desire to “Get-Rich-Quick.” Here’s an excerpt from one I get all the time: “Your blueprint to $48,000 a month passive income!” If it’s so easy, why aren’t we all millionaires? And why are they selling the information instead of working the plan themselves?

Investment Opportunities

These scams may tout outrageously high rates of return with no risk: “Get a Forex Robot that is capable of doubling your money every month!” This implies that all you have to do is use the robot and double your money. Often, there’s wording to suggest the promoters have high-level financial connections; that they’re privy to inside information; or that they guarantee the investment.

Get Something Free

The lure of valuable, free items — like computers or long distance phone cards — gets consumers to pay membership fees to sign up. After they pay the fee, consumers learn that they don’t qualify for the “free” gift until they recruit other “members.” It’s really a pyramid scheme in disguise. Here’s one, and what do you know, it’s our old friends Pacific Valley West from the work at home scam above:

Subject: Receive a Free DELL Laptop Computer
From: “Confirmation Number – DLL6752”
Date: Mon, 01 Jun 2009 11:44:22 -0400
To: xxx@xxxxx

Confirmation Number – DLL6752
Recieve a Free DELL Laptop Computer:
To Stop Recieving Announcements About This Offer:

Take An Offer
1700 7th Ave.Suite 116 #363
Seattle WA 98101
See instructions above to stop receiving announcements from this advertiser.
This announcement is sent via your permission from a partner site.
To stop further announcements:

Or Write:
Pacific Valley West, LLC
375 N. Stephanie St., Suite 1411
Henderson, NV 89014

Someone close to me once didn’t believe me when I told them this is a scam, so I locked down my PC and browser, set up a Mailinator email address and proceeded to “sign up” for my “free” Dell laptop. It wasn’t long before my friend realized that by completing all the “offers” I was required to complete to “qualify” for the laptop, I could buy one outright.

Health & Diet Scams

These offer “scientific breakthroughs”, “miraculous cures”, “exclusive products”, “secret formulas”, and “ancient ingredients”. The one below (the embedded image containing the actual claims has been stripped) claims that this “Power Colon Cleanse” formula will get rid of extra pounds and inches. More than likely, you’ll simply be flushing your money down the toilet (literally).

Subject: Lose the Waste, Lose the Weight?
From: Cleanse Your Body (
Sent: Tue 6/02/09 12:44 PM

<.jpg image removed>

These examples should give you a good idea of what an email scam looks like. In Part 3, we’ll take a look at Trojan horse emails, phishing scams, and the Nigerian 419 scam.

Now, let’s repeat those tips from US-CERT:

  • Filter spam
  • Don’t trust unsolicited email
  • Treat email attachments with caution
  • Don’t click links in email messages
  • Install antivirus software and keep it up to date
  • Install a personal firewall and keep it up to date
  • Configure your email client for security

See you next time!

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