Scam and Spam: What a Tangled Web They Leave
"Forward this message to 10 people and you'll receive a cash prize!" "Grant a dying child's last wish--send an e-mail now." "Alert! Your computer has been infected with a DANGEROUS VIRUS! Your hard drive could be wiped out if you open the attachment!!"
These are examples of some common Internet hoaxes and scams currently cruising around the information superhighway. Look familiar? They probably do, as most computer users have received them in one form or another. They are frauds, hoaxes, myths, and chain letters. They waste time, take up computer memory, tie up computer bandwidth, and disturb thousands of people. Then there's spam--the irritating electronic equivalent to junk mail. Learning how to discern the fakes from the facts may help save you time and unnecessary concern.
According to the National Consumer's League, the top five types of frauds found on the Internet include 1) phony prize offers, 2) bogus travel packages, 3) fraudulent investments, 4) work-at-home swindles, and 5) false virus warnings.
You can spot these and other scams by keeping the following in mind:
Beware any unsolicited e-mails. Was the text actually written by the person who sent it to you? If not, be skeptical.
Red flags should go up if you see the phrase, "Forward this to everyone you know." If the message seems more eager to persuade than to inform, be suspicious.
Look for over emphatic language, the frequent use of UPPERCASE LETTERS and multiple exclamation points!!!!!
Read the message carefully and think critically about what it says. If the communication declares, "This is not a lie," it usually is. Likewise, closely examine any fantastic claim. Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Always apply common sense and never feel compelled to forward messages, no matter how urgent they may seem.
Within five forwards, 9,765,625 people will have received the false information.
Even though many e-mailers may think a message isn't true, they'll send it on, just in case. What they may not realize is that many forwards are not only a waste of inbox space, but also are slowing and potentially crippling the Internet system. For instance, say one person has 25 people in his address book and sends a "warning" to all of them. If each of them sends the message along to another 25 people, the bogus warning could be passed on to 625 people. If each of those people has 25 contacts in their address books, it could reach 15,625 people. Within five forwards 9,765,625 will have received the false information (based on 25 people per address book).
While the Internet can be used to con people, it also can be used to discover the truth. The following watchdog sites can answer many questions about Internet scams and hoaxes:
www.scambusters.org--This site identifies the latest scams currently occurring on the Internet.
http://www.fraud.org--Provided by the National Fraud Information Center. For people who wish to report a possible fraud, the NFIC also has an
http://www.Consumer.gov--The Federal Trade Commission's Web site, designed as a clearinghouse of government information, includes excellent advice regarding online shopping Internet fraud and identity theft.
The average American received about 700 spam messages this year.
Believe it or not
"Urban myths" also are common on the Internet. They strive to make the reader believe the unbelievable and many people actually are taken in by these tall tales.
One urban myth tells of a stranger trying to trap innocent female shoppers in mall parking lots by asking them to smell "perfume" that is actually ether. After losing consciousness, the women are allegedly assaulted. Another myth warns that a madman is leaving infected hypodermic needles on movie theater seats, or sending sponges soaked with a deadly virus in a blue envelope from the "Klingerman Foundation" to random homes across the country.
Common sense and a little homework often can help separate fact from fiction. For instance, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a story began circulating on the Internet claiming that Nostradamus, the 16th century French astronomer, had predicted the attacks on the World Trade Center. The "proof" could be seen in his writings dated 1654. That's especially interesting, since a quick background check reveals that Nostradamus died in 1566.
Several Web sites provide lists of urban myths, and most give an explanation of how the stories started and why they are not real:
www.hoaxbusters.org--A catalog of different Internet hoaxes and urban myths.
www.urbanlegends.about.com--Offers some of the most recent myths and most popular gimmicks.
Read the message carefully and think critically about what it says.
Can the spam
Unlike hoaxes and myths that can fool you, it's easy to recognize spam, which is unsolicited commercial e-mail. According to the Computer Incident Advisory Capability at the Department of Energy, almost all spam is commercial advertising, however, some spams promote political views, urging votes on specific issues, and so on.
Marketing analysts warn that spam is going to get worse before it gets better. Research shows that the average American received about 700 spam messages this year, and by 2006, nearly 40% of all e-mails will be junk.
One way to protect yourself from receiving more unsolicited messages is by not responding to a common spam instruction: "If you no longer wish to receive messages on this topic, simply reply to this message and write 'unsubscribe' in the topic box." By doing this, Internet users simply confirm that spammers have a valid e-mail address on their list--prompting even more unwanted e-mail.
Fortunately, technological tools are helping fight spam. Software is now available that runs beneath e-mail programs and allows users to identify and filter out the junk messages. There are still some bugs to be worked out, however, as users complain that the programs sometimes block out legitimate messages. Specialists say this type of software, like virus prevention software, must be constantly updated or spammers eventually will find a way around it.
Protect your computer and your peace of mind each time you log on. With reason and some trusted resources, you can use the Internet without getting tangled in the Web.
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