Trust No One

The Computer Corner

By Charles Miller

A column that appeared here a few weeks ago provoked a reader response I could not have imagined. In that column I related how the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG) was engaged in tracking trends in online email scams. Their website at antiphishing.org shows that over a six-month period during 2014 that there were at least 123,972 unique phishing campaigns identified. The comment that so shocked me was from the reader who commented that with more than 100,000 spam emails being sent in six months, it was no wonder she got so many.

I then had to explain that if there were only 100,000 scam emails being sent, or only a million, that this would be a gift heaven sent. The situation on the Internet today is that billions and billions of spam emails are clogging inboxes and email servers worldwide. The number 123,972 I quoted is a rough count of the number of different con games being run, each one of which probably generates millions of spam emails.

Every week there are hundreds upon hundreds of new scams, and that is why I wrote that I cannot possibly keep up with all the different cons and why I am not even trying. Not having enough hours in the day to keep track of all the new con games, I have to rely on a couple of phrases popular among Information Technology professionals: “Trust No One” (TNO) and “Be suspicious of everything.” If you approach every email with that in mind, you will be safer than most.

Two tangentially related questions I hear a lot are, “How do these crooks get their money, and why can’t law enforcement authorities just arrest them?” The unfortunate reality is that crooks can move faster than law enforcement can react. Criminals are constantly innovating with new scams and use clever ways of making money transfers untraceable using mules.

A “mule” might be some hapless unemployed person who answered a work-at-home ad. They agreed to let your money be transferred into their bank account in return for a commission. They then send the money off to some foreign bank or another mule. By the time the police come calling, your money is long gone and untraceable. Another method is for the crooks to arrange the purchase of precious metals or jewels using your bank account. They choreograph the sale so that even if your bank alerts the police within minutes, the valuable purchase is already out the door and gone forever.

What can you do about this? Be suspicious of everything. Make liberal use of your [Delete] key every time you receive any suspicious email. If you receive a phone call, just hang up. You cannot reason with these scam artists; their only goal is to cheat you out of your money.

Be extremely cautions about opening files that come to you attached to emails. Finally, regular readers of this column have read this before: Never, never, never, never, never, never, ever click on links in emails, especially from people you trust. Almost 100 percent of my clients who were victims of a scam were had because they clicked on a link in an email from (allegedly) someone they trusted.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.

 

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