Saturday, 16 June 2007

Public service announcement

Saw this on MSN...you are all pretty intelligent people out there, but better safe than sorry...

Patrick Goss: Editor - Tech & Gadgets: Don't fall for e-mail hoaxes

I don’t know about you but I don’t know any deposed kings, exiled leaders or righteous princes. I’m fairly certain that I haven’t inadvertently entered any worldwide lotteries and I’m pretty darn convinced that, although I haven’t spoken to him about it, Bill Gates will not be sending me a cheque for thousands of pounds if I forward an email about Microsoft to all my friends.

Because today I am in the world of hoax e-mails, and the really pressing question is: why the hell do people fall for them in the first place?

There was a time when I had a little sympathy for people who fell into these traps – especially when the internet and e-mail were still relatively young and people simply weren’t used to being deluged with requests.

But that was then and this is now – when my parents spend as much time on the internet as I do, and there have been more stories written on these scams, phishers and hoaxes than I care to mention.

Basically – if you fall for one of the hoaxes now then you need your head looking at.

The deposed ruler chronicles

Let’s take, for example, the popular ‘deposed ruler’ e-mail. Now I’m all for giving people the benefit of the doubt, but it beggars belief that someone reads this story and doesn’t raise an eyebrow.

Generally the mail goes like this:

• Hello I’m a Nigerian/Albanian/African prince/PM/president who has been cruelly usurped.
• If you help me then I can make you a millionaire
• All I need is a few hundred dollars to get my throne back. (occasionally this only comes out in later e-mails)

Now, let’s for a moment ignore the first two points (don’t worry I’ll get back to them in a minute) and focus on the third.

You’ve never met this person, never heard of them and they want you to send them money. Would you send money to someone you met at a party once who said exactly what was said above? No. You’d probably laugh in their face and resolve not to go to any other parties the host organises.

Even if the original e-mail doesn’t explicitly state that you need to send your money, you can’t get away from points one and two.

First point, why would they be e-mailing you? Have you got a reputation for your skilful handling of African politics? Have you got a huge bottomless pit of wealth that can restore the person to their ‘rightful’ throne/parliament?

Point two: okay so here’s the hook. You can be a millionaire for no work at all! Really? If this doesn’t raise your eyebrows I can only assume that you have been at an overzealous stag party and don’t have any left. How many people do you know that got involved in get-rich-quick schemes and came out as millionaires? Any?

Perhaps you heard about the FRIEND of someone you kind of know who made a killing in a pyramid scheme or by setting up his own religion, but you probably know as well as I do that get-rich-quick schemes are about as reliable as an ashtray on a motorcycle.

The Microsoft/AOL spoof

One of the hoaxes I have most recently written an article on is a phishing/fraud e-mail that went around purporting to be from Microsoft and/or AOL. This particular version suggested that you had, wait for it, WON a lottery for just using Microsoft / AOL products and were a millionaire.

Great! Show me the money.

Of course, to get your greedy mitts on this cash there are some very minor hoops to jump through. Like giving them your credit card details, your mother’s maiden name, the name of your first pet, your best friend (and their credit card number too if you have it).

The e-mail is headed by a hastily photoshopped Microsoft banner, and starts with the words: ‘Congratulation, congratulation, congratulation!’. I don’t even want to start on the formatting.

I wrote a fairly lengthy dissection of the e-mail on my blog, and thought little more of it, until I noticed that the whole thing was getting a lot of hits from people typing bits of it into search engines – presumably to see if the offer was real.

Which brings me to another point - in this day and age of search engines it really isn’t that hard to check these things out. Although not by any means foolproof, if you get a dodgy e-mail a few brief key taps can fairly quickly establish that you aren’t the only person to have received it.

Don’t forget that scams pretending to be from the likes of e-Bay, Microsoft, PayPal etc are treated very seriously by those companies and they will do their best to publicise that you shouldn’t reply to these e-mails.

So come on people…

I’d really like to never have to write another article outlining the latest phising scam or money hoax, but I know there’s no chance of that. It genuinely astounds me that people who have enough brains to press letter keys in the right order to make words fall for what, even at their most sophisticated, are pretty transparent, pathetic attempts to get personal details or money out of them.

There are big lists of what you should look out for in hoax and phishing e-mails – some of them written by me, but the most obvious list of things you should go through is this:

1/ Don’t be na├»ve: the best way to find out if you’ve won the lottery is to check your numbers and if a Nigerian Prince needs your help I’m sure he could send one of his minions to your door (although I’m assuming even then you would ring the consulate to make sure).

2/ If you get an e-mail about anything you do online that involves money, treat it with quadruple suspicion.

3/ If you have any doubts don’t respond to the e-mail or click on any links.

So please don’t fall for the scams. They rely on one person in thousands responding to them and that one person is pretty much responsible for a good percentage of the rubbish that clogs up our inboxes.

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Anglonoel said...

This is the sort of cobblers I'm talking about!