Al­most scammed via e-mail

The Compass - - OPINION -

A friend of mine asked an ac­quain­tance, “ Do you have e-mail?” The per­son re­sponded, “ E-mail? Me part­ner jus’ died, b’y, and I don’t even have a she­mail!”

To use an over­worked phrase, I’d be lost with­out e-mail.

Once upon a time, I re­fused to set up an e-mail ac­count, be­cause of my un­godly fear of com­put­ers. I con­tin­ued to use the triedand­proved snail mail, phone and fax. Even­tu­ally, giv­ing in to the taunts of fam­ily and friends, who had al­ready proved the ben­e­fits of e-mail, I grudg­ingly sur­ren­dered my­self to the other. Now I my­self taunt oth­ers who shy away from e-mail use.

I’ve never re­gret­ted my de­ci­sion to in­dulge. Mind you, I’m of­ten frus­trated. I hate junk e-mails, which only clut­ter my in­box and pose se­ri­ous virus threats. In any given day, I hit the delete but­ton count­less times. Un­for­tu­nately, in the process, I some­times delete le­git­i­mate e-mails.

An e-mail user re­ceives all sorts of un­so­licited in­vi­ta­tions. One I re­ceived is a clas­sic. “ Bur­tonj,” an un­known sender wrote me, “ would you like big­ger breasts?” Let me think. . . not in­ter­ested!

At times, I re­ceive e-mails I don’t quite know what to do with. For ex­am­ple, I re­cently re­ceived one, ev­i­dently from a friend, whose name was af­fixed at the end.

“ I’m sorry,” he be­gan, “I didn’t in­form you about my trav­el­ing to Eng­land for a busi­ness trip.” “ Well, that’s pos­si­ble,” I rea­soned with my­self. “ He’s a cler­gy­man af­ter all, so he may have had to at­tend a con­fer­ence in the United King­dom.”

What fol­lowed made me sit up and take no­tice. “ Right now,” my friend con­tin­ued, “ I’m stranded here and need to get back to New­found­land with­out de­lay.”

“ Stranded in Eng­land?” I mused. “ Wow, that’s bad!”

My con­cern level peaked when I read, “ I need a favour from you be­cause I was robbed on my way back to my ho­tel suite. The rob­bers got away with my bag con­tain­ing my wal­let, phone, flight ticket and other valu­ables.

“ I’d like you to lend me $ 3,500 in US Dol­lars, or any amount you can af­ford, as half bread is bet­ter than none, so I can sort out my ho­tel bills and get my­self back home. . . .

“ I was told the fastest and safest way to re­ceive money in sec­onds is through Western Union (since that’s what works here). So, if you can be of help, send the money by us­ing the de­tails be­low. . . .”

To his “credit,” my friend promised to pay me back, “ with an ex­tra $1,000 in US Dol­lars,” as soon as he ar­rived back on The Rock. “ Not a bad deal,” I thought.

I did a dou­ble take. “ It could be a le­git­i­mate ap­peal from my friend. If I do noth­ing, he may face fur­ther prob­lems.”

Sud­denly, my never-far-be­low-thesur­face cyn­i­cism kicked in with a vengeance. “ There’s some­thing wrong with this pic­ture,” I con­cluded.

I im­me­di­ately re­searched the in­ci­dent on­line, only to dis­cover that a scam­mer had com­pro­mised my e-mail ac­count and used a so­cial en­gi­neer­ing scam to try and swin­dle me out of a lot of money. The hacker had used my ac­count to e-mail my con­tacts.

E-mail scams are rife. A ma­jor prob­lem with this one, be­side the fact that it’s en­tirely bo­gus, is that the sense of ur­gency has the po­ten­tial of caus­ing the re­cip­i­ent to fail to val­i­date the claim, thereby in­creas­ing the like­li­hood of fall­ing for the scam.

The truth is, this scam alone has suc­cess­fully swin­dled con­sumers out of mul­ti­plied thou­sands of dol­lars.

In­quir­ing minds want to know how hack­ers op­er­ate. I know vir­tu­ally noth­ing about how com­put­ers work. How­ever, In­ter­net re­search helps. This scam op­er­ates on two lev­els. First, the scam­mer hacks into ran­dom web­mail ac­counts. Many bo­gus emails are sent out, each one try­ing to fool users into giv­ing their web­mail ac­count lo­gin de­tails. Sadly, some re­cip­i­ents fall for the ruse and pro­vide their web­mail de­tails to the scam­mer, who then logs in to the com­pro­mised ac­counts.

Sec­ond, the scam­mer sends out, to all the e-mail ad­dresses in the ac­count’s ad­dress book, the des­per­ate email cited above. If only one re­cip­i­ent re­sponds pos­i­tively, the scam has worked spec­tac­u­larly.

Per­haps caveat emp­tor is the op­er­a­tive cau­tion here. Let the buyer be­ware. If you buy into e-mail use, then be on guard against the scam­mers, who re­lent­lessly try and hack into your ac­count for ne­far­i­ous rea­sons.

Specif­i­cally, be wary of e-mails that request money, even if such notices ap­pear to orig­i­nate with a friend.

Make your ac­count de­tails as se­cure as pos­si­ble.

Be wary of web­mail phish­ing scams, de­signed to steal we­bamil ac­count de­tails.

If you have mul­ti­ple web­mail ac­counts, check each one reg­u­larly to en­sure they have not been com­pro­mised.

Fi­nally, let your friends know their e-mail ac­counts have in­deed been com­pro­mised.

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