Are Your E-mail Spam Days Over?
If you’re reading this then probably not. You know the feeling – you open up your email inbox and it’s stuffed with spam mail that you don’t want to read and didn’t sign up for. Most of it’s probably totally innocuous, it’s just an unfortunate side effect of not reading the terms and conditions before you ticked a box somewhere on the internet.
It’s not all innocent though: some spam is sent deliberately to cause harm, whether that’s through a financial scam or just damaging your computer. We’re going to take a look at the most common types of harmful email, how it works and how to avoid it.
Phishing is a type of scam whereby an email purports to have come from a trustworthy source – your bank, eBay, or another type of organisation in which people place their trust. Emails are sent to hundreds of thousands of people at once – for most, they’ll go straight into a spam folder or be deleted, but it only takes one or two people to click to be worth it to these criminals, because sending the emails costs them nothing.
The email will often come from an address that looks relatively legitimate – it might have the organisation’s name in it, but it will in fact be at least a few characters different from their actual address.
People are encouraged to click a link, which will take them to a website which looks almost identical to the real deal. These are called mirror sites, and are designed to convince potential victims that they are on a site they can and should trust with their important details. When a victim updates their password or enters personal details, scammers can get hold of this information and use it for their own financial gain.
You can often spot so-called ‘phishing’ emails by the urgent tone that they take – an email will often threaten dire consequences if action is not taken immediately. If you aren’t sure if an email is real or not, look up your bank or the organisation’s telephone number online and get in touch with them that way; they’ll be able to tell you if there really is a problem, or not. Evalian cover the issue of How to Identify Phishing Emails in their focused blog post.
Scammers are becoming more sophisticated all the time, and it’s easy to fall for a simple trick if you’re worried your bank account has been frozen or something similar.
Advance Fee Fraud
This is a type of email scam which is much less common than it used to be, but it’s still around, so it’s worth remaining vigilant.
Advance fee fraud e-mails operate using a very simple premise; we humans are very greedy! These scams usually take the form of personal letters, pretending to be from someone with a lot of money who needs help to access it. Scammers promise victims hundreds or thousands of pounds in return for a short-term loan to help them leave the country or pay a bribe, for instance.
Many pretend to be based in Nigeria, so you may also have heard this referred to as the ‘Nigerian Prince’ scam. Once a victim has sent money, the scammer will then pretend to need just a little more, before they can reward their victim with a big payout.
The cycle will continue until the victim gets wise to the scam and stops sending money, by which time the scammer is usually hundreds of pounds better off.
In some sad cases, these scams can also play on vulnerable peoples’ loneliness, and a long distance relationship (conducted entirely via email) can become the reason that the scammer pretends to need money – to visit the victim.
It’s not a scam that many young people are likely to fall for, but it’s important to look out for more vulnerable internet users in your life – parents and grandparents in particular.
Viruses and Spyware
There also exists a category of spam which is just plain malicious; often rather than any substantial tangible financial gain, the people who send it are simply looking to infect your computer with viruses.
Some malware will create adverts everywhere you go on the web – and they may well be the kind of explicit adverts you want to keep your children far away from. Others seek to log everything you type – including passwords and keys for your online banking and other secure, personal accounts. Still more want to use your computer as part of a botnet – a computer network which utilises the power of many infected computers to complete a task, often not a legal one.
All of these emails containing viruses and spyware will have a download link in them, which could infect your computer when you click it. Unlike traditional spy equipment which required someone to sneak into your house, modern spyware simply needs a backdoor into your computer.
You can avoid becoming a victim of this type of email spam by carefully moderating what you click when you’re online. Don’t ever click a link if you aren’t sure what it is, and if a dialogue box pops up asking you about a download you weren’t expecting, you should never allow it.
Keeping Your Computer and Phones Safe
It’s really important to ensure that your whole family is up to date on internet security and knows that, where spam emails are concerned, it’s better to be safe than sorry – don’t click if you don’t already know what it is.
If you’ve come under attack from a virus or piece of malware installed on your computer or phone by accident, you may have lost valuable data, so a data recovery stick, like a Data Devil, could prove really handy. Equally, it’s important to know what your kids are doing online, so why not invest in a computer monitoring device like the Social Media Web Tracker or a spy phone, which allows you to keep an eye on their browsing habits and how good the internet security they’re practising is.