Books written by Ray Sullivan

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Is Ths The Worst Scam Attempt Yet?

We're all used to people attempting to reduce our bank balances without providing anything useful in return - and no, I'm not banging on about the taxman again.  I'm talking about those emails and other assorted internet based attempts to trick us into providing our personal data or just to get us to click on a link that then squirts malware into our computer.

Let's start with the links first.  Common sense in this day and age should tell us not to open any URL that we cannot absolutely verify or be certain about.  It's actually a tall order in many cases, especially if you know someone who thinks it's a public service to forward on each and every joke-based email that drops into their inbox, emailing their entire address book, even if the joke isn't that funny or has been around the internet an incalculable number of times.

I used to have a golden rule regarding these emails - if they started by claiming they were the funniest joke on the internet or included the words 'wait for it....' followed by an interminable space which you assumed the punchline would reside in I deleted them, there and then without reading further.  I say I used to have such a rule, these days I just delete automatically.  I'm sure there must be some genuinely funny emails floating around out there, but life is just too short to waste wading through the genuinely unfunny emails that form the bulk, plus many of these emails are simply a vehicle for viruses and malware, readily forwarded from unsuspecting friends.  The real giveaway, though, is the link that some hope we will click on.

But these are pretty low level scams, based on the hope that they will go viral before the payload is detected. Usually the payload simply redirects the search engine of the infected computer to one that looks real but is almost certainly up to no good.  I've helped a few people eradicate these intrusive changes in the past but due to my cautious nature I've never attempted to find out if they really do search for anything.

More serious are the well organised phishing scams, usually in the form of an email that, if you follow the links, opens up a credible looking web page, usually for a major bank,  While the skills of the designers can be variable, many of these are very accurate copies of existing web pages - it's only a push of PrtScrn after all.  The strength of these scams is that they are very realistic looking.  The weaknesses are twofold.  First, all the major banks - hopefully all the banks regardless of size - continually tell us that they will never email us and ask us to use a link in the email to log on to our accounts.  As most of us can read, that should be enough.  But the second weakness is that, although there are only a finite number of banks and other savings institutions, there are enough to make it difficult to second guess who uses which.  If any of us receive an email purporting to be from a bank we don't have an account with then we'd guess it was at best a mistake, more likely a scam.  However one way of achieving this - in the minds of the scammers - is to send emails from all of the major banks at the same time.  If that failed to send alarm bells then we deserve to be scammed.

I don't know how many fall for these scams - I'm guessing some must otherwise they wouldn't bother, but it can't be many.  The next kind of scam probably doesn't fare much better, although if anything will work, this could be the one because it feeds on our inherent greed.  It's the email that tantalises us - in their mind, anyway - with the possibility of profit we're not entitled to.  You know, funds locked in an African state, needs a European (or US) bank account to pay into.  Then there's the lottery wins for competitions we've never heard of, let alone entered.  If anyone is greedy enough to provide bank details to claim a prize in a competition they never entered, then they also probably deserve to be fleeced.

Today I received what is probably the worst ever example of one of these emails.  It is so bad, it's almost good.  I'll suppress some information - I know anyone who is smart enough to read this blog isn't going to fall for a scam like this, but I can't do anything about the occasional wanderer who may think the following is reasonable.

It starts with the sender's apparent name - Lucas Moore.  Unfortunately for Lucas, my email also identifies his email address which shows his real name isn't as Anglicised as the header might suggest.  Then there's the subject: 2013 Scam Victims compensation!!!.  That's right, three exclamation marks, showing that this must be a professional communication.

Next there's a list of pseudo official text indicating this comes from the Scam Compensation Office Department of the Ecobank International Inc.  That's right, not just an office or a department, but both.  To make it official the email includes a bogus reference number.  Then comes the text, which suggests that Ecobank have been nominated by the World Bank/United Nations (I'm not sure which and neither are they, seemingly) to pay out up to $500,000 in compensation to scam victims.  Well, they would, it's their fault, surely?

But don't get any ideas about this being an easy payment to lay your hands on, no - all applications have to vetted by Ecobank - I'm pleased to see some diligence being applied here - and of course they would like me to provide some personal information.  Now that gets my goat - they email me and ask me to provide my name and email?  Oh, and could I provide some contact details, such as address, phone number, age, occupation.  In fact some of the key information that might just help someone crack my bank account with some additional information.  And one last thing - could I ensure I advise them of the amount I've been scammed?  That's a tricky one, talk about chicken and egg.  I'll only know that when they've finished hanging my bank account upside down by the ankles, surely?

And then there's a phone number - it starts with the number +234 and some other numbers which I expect is a premium rate number in somewhere like Belize.  Like I say, it's so bad, it should win an award.

The final example of scamming that I've had to wade through this week - the list above is just an sample that we all experience through our inboxes - differs in that instead of waiting for me to drop my guard and let them in, they've just taken something of mine.  Once again I've been alerted to a website offering one of my eBooks for download - I suspect for free, but it wasn't too clear - and I had to go through the usual motions of contacting the hosting ISP and getting them to cease and desist.  It's not that I'm overly bothered by people sharing my books - I fully recommend letting your friends and family have a read of any of my books you've enjoyed in the same way you might pass a paperbook version around your group of friends.  It's the bloody cheek of giving away copies to anyone without even asking my permission that irritates me.

So I'll continue to shut down any site that attempts to scam me without my permission, in a heartbeat.  But I'm up for providing free copies of my books if anyone wants to ask me politely - just send a short email to making a bid for a free eBook, stating which title and if it's a friendly enough request I'll happily generate a code on Smashwords for you.  Just don't pop it on a website offering it for free download, please.  And whatever you do, don't pop a web link in your email that might make me think it could be malware!

And - wait for it.... - don't include any internet jokes.  I've deleted them all.


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