Security

Spam Uncanned

The flow of spam email seems never ending.  Each new day seems to bring in a new banquet of spammy delights.  People offering me cheap pharmaceuticals that are not really medicines at all, cheap software that's pirated stuff, free millions that don't exist and free inclusion in search engines that I've never heard of that probably don't exist either.  It never fails to amuse me what ventures can be profitable when an idiot somewhere is given access to a PC and other people's email accounts.

I've already talked a lot about email scams and how invariably they are just a way to shove in industrial vacuum cleaner into your pocket and suck until not even lint remains.  The net used to be surfed by people who were quite savvy, at least from a technical point of view.  However, the more people you add to the net the greater the chances are that there a few people will get on who believe in things that most people wouldn't.  They believe that random people go around giving you millions to people for a few minutes help.   That prescription drugs can be made and sold by people who can't spell.  That you can buy the 100 top software applications for next to nothing.  That some company will send you money or send some sick kid a dialysis machine if you forward the email to 50 other people.  The fact that you can send millions of emails for next to nothing means that while most people receiving the spam-loaded email will just be annoyed by it and send it straight to the bin, there is always going to be a small number of people who think that they have struck gold by doing nothing more than downloading their email.

If everyone could spot junk email and tossed it straight into the bin then the phenomenon would soon vanish as it would no longer be profitable.  Chain letters sent by regular snail mail died because of the lack of response and the fact that regular mails costs money.  The only way that spam is going to truly vanish is when everyone (or nearly everyone) knows that it's spam and bins it.

One way that the spammers stay ahead of the game it to try to hide the fact that the spam is in fact spam.  They're often quite transparent and obviously devised by people who have an IQ somewhere in the mid double-digits.  

Here are some of the tricks that the spam-merchants try and also a few of the things that give them away.

Email from people you've never heard of

This isn't a reliable indicator by far, especially if you are in business, but for the average home user this should be something to be wary of.  Names not matching the email address name (before the @) is another warning sign.

Another warning sign is when the sender's name doesn't match the name given in the email.

Email messages telling you to reply to a different address

The spammers do this for two reasons:

  1. That the account they used to send the email will probably be reported and binned
  2. That they don't have access to receive emails from the account that they sent from

All capitals

Many idiots that send spam seem to be of the opinion that a message that is all in capitals is likely to receive more attention than one written following the proper rules of capitalization.

Back to Mr. Bill Adams for this (or should I say MR. BILL ADAMS):

Believe me, it carries on in the same vein.  Maybe instead of sending this guy bank account details we should all send him some lowercase letters.

Emails that seem seem to be for someone else

This is an interesting trick.  Some people might fall for a random person contacting them out of the blue offering them millions.  Most, though, won't.  Far better to make it seem like the recipient got the email by some sort of accident or good luck.  

Emails that go to great lengths to assure you that it's not a con

I'll let this segment (again by your friend and mine, MR. BILL ADAMS), speak for itself

"HITCH-FREE" eh?  Sorry Bill, but I'm entertaining a little fear and I think I'll give this deal a miss.

Wacky, meaningless text

Check the end of our email and if it contains wacky, meaningless text like this, it's just a trick to try to bypass spam filters.

I don't think I'm sure what he's trying to do either!

To be a winner you need to enter into a competition

These cons rely on people either forgetting that they entered into a competition or that they didn't and through some sheer good luck their name and email address popped out of the system instead of that of the actual winner.

I love this one because it tries so hard to look official and fails miserably:

  1. Firstly, unless my geography is way out of date, the UK isn't in the state of California and doesn't fall under the zip code 85914, which also, by the way, isn't even in California!
  2. Secondly, it helps me to think that I'm a winner rather than a wiener when I don't get four messages saying the exact same thing to four different email addresses all containing the same details ... I mean, come on!

  1. Thirdly, why would the "claims officer" have a Netscape email address?

In closing

Stay sharp - if something seems to good to be true, it probably is!



Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
Last updated: March 9th 2005
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