Friday, July 18, 2008

Spam Doesn't Just Come in a Can

When I was growing up, SPAM was an odd-looking meat byproduct that was found in a can in your local grocery store. That kind of spam still exists today, but now something other than that sliceable hunk of food immediately comes to mind when you hear the word "spam": bogus e-mails that try to get you to release personal information, make promises of financial freedom, or ask you to "click here" to see a funny joke that really puts a virus on your PC."

What's even scarier is that e-mail spam is becoming more frequent and even more creative. Internet security company Secure Computing claims that, in the month of June, more than 85% of all e-mail sent was spam! Aside from wasted time sifting through this junk, spam can also cost consumers in PC repairs and virus removal services. Even worse, it can cost people thousands of dollars if they unknowingly release personal financial information to a spammer.

One of the most frequent types of spam, according to Secure Computing, has been phishing, where an e-mail contains a link to a Website that mimics a legitimate one (like a bank or online shopping site) and requests personal account information from the recipient. But some other interesting types have been popping up over the years, each playing on different reader's weaknesses. For example, fashion spam promises discount prices on brand name merchandise; while loan spam targets those in financial need by offering a solution that really just further perpetuates the problem by hijacking their PCs.

Penny Stock Spams are another relatively new category in the e-mail space. In this case, the spammers purchase a large amount of stock, then send out a massive e-mail campaign that hypes it up, only to sell it off before they're found out, and pocket the easy cash. Secure Computing notes that many use stock symbols close to legitimate ones, like HBSC and FIMA.

While the "win a BlackBerry" scheme has been going strong, I wouldn't be surprised to see that change to "win an iPhone" some time soon! You have to admit: people typically find it tough to resist the chance to win anything, so it's no shock that this scam is still going strong.

Finally, there's the false headline spam e-mails that pretend to send you to a site with juicy details about a real, or even fake, news story. Spammers ensure they cover all types and age groups by making these headlines range from timely war and natural disaster-related topics to the latest Hollywood starlet gossip.

While it's tough, the easiest way to combat this stuff is simply not to open an e-mail if you don't know who it's from; and especially don't open attachments. If it's a legitimate e-mail and important enough, the person will manage to get in touch with you somehow. It's much more sensible to hit that delete button than it is to risk damaging your PC or worse, your bank account. While times have changed, it still remains that the only kind of spam you should be opening comes in a can.

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