Scam Alert (Phote Credit: Blog.seattlepi.)

Be very aware. A re-invented form of internet scam is on the loose right now. Just recently I have received an email from one of my professional business contacts in the Philippines asking for immediate help. Below is the exact content of his email.

 “Am in a great sorrow writing you this note, Just wanted inform you about  something very  important, I could barely thing straight at this point, I hope you come to my aid. Because something very terrible is happening to me now, I need a favor from you now, I had a trip here in UK.

 Unfortunately for me all my money got stolen on my way to the hotel where i lodged along with my bag were my passport was ,And since then i have been without any money i am even owing the hotel here.

So i have limited access to emails for now, please i need you to lend me about 1,500 Dollars so i can make arrangements and return back I am full of panic now, the police only asked me to write a state about the incident and directed me to the embassy, i have spoken to the embassy here but they are not responding to the matter effectively.

 I will return the money back to you as soon as I get home, I am so confused right now. i wasn’t injured because complied immediately. I will be waiting to hear from you since I can’t access the internet always.

I await to hear from you.”

 I looked at the email header and found that indeed this email came from my contact and that the email address is correct. I even click the reply button to see if it will give me the right email address for my business associate. Everything seems fine. However, I felt unsure so I again re-read the email. This is where I realized the scam.

 My business associate that this email purportedly came from works with a top media company as one of its main editors. He leads a team of mainstream editors working for both for government and non-government news agencies. The way the email letteris written primarily gave it away. Firstly, if indeed it came from my associate, he would have surely addressed it to me personally and not simply begin the letter. Second, a few grammatical and typo errors are subtly evident. Surely for a professional who does editing and copy-writing day in and day out, errors such as this will be next to none. Thirdly, the email stated that the Philippine Embassywas contacted and spoken to but is not helpful. Looking back at the email headers, the email was sent on the 18th July at 23:42. This is a weekend and surely the embassy is closed at this time of the night unless the call was made to the Embassy’s Emergency number. For public knowledge, when sending emails, the date and time of the local computer (or location) of the sender is automatically included into the email.

So in the case of this hoax email, it clearly reflects that it is sent at the date and time specified in the email as it further claims to be made from somewhere in the UK. Finally, the email scam does not leave me any other ways of immediately verifying or contacting my associate, should he be in real despair. All the email asks me is to reply to the email for possible further instruction. Also it can be noted that no closing remark or signatory is included in the email scam.

 The proliferation of email scams such as this only adds to the endless lists of technological scams to include internet and telephone scams. The semi-personalisation of the email is the deceiving part of the scam. It gives us a false sense of security and assurance as to the email’s authenticity. As the global technology reaches out to each and every country, organized criminal syndicates tend to expand their platforms as well. In order to avoid falling victim to such malicious intent, here are some of my own personal tips:

 Keep 2 (or more) separate email address. One should be used exclusively for public domain such as signing up for internet services (i.e. facebook, friendster), completing public forms and sharing with people you do not know personally. The other email address should be your private email. This should only be given to business associates, family and close personal friends. However, do make it a habit to check the public email address as it may occasionally contain valid and important information.

 Install the latest anti-virus, anti-spam and anti-phishing software in your home computer. Spending a few sterling on a software that will help protect you is priceless.

 Keep your vital computer software up-to-date (i.e. windows operating system, MAC, internet browser, etc.)

 If you receive an email from someone you do not know and it has some attached file to it, be very careful when opening it. Use your informed decision. Others suggest deleting it but then again, the file may be legitimate and you might lose some vital information.

 If you receive a dodgy email from one of your contacts or colleagues, verify the authenticity of this email personally either by a call, text or by any other means.

 Help improve the credibility of email communication by reporting spam emails to your internet service provider. Most email inbox has a little box on the left side of the email sender or subject. If you think the email is spam, click on the little box next to the spam email. This puts a little tick mark on the identified spam email. Somewhere in your email page, a SPAM button will be visible. Click this button to report the ticked email as spam.

 Here are a few examples of the most popular email frauds in the past (and present):

  • A foreign government official would like your assistance in transferring funds and will pay you a hefty commission if you agree.
  • You stand to inherit millions of dollars from a relative you don’t remember.
  • You’ve won a prize or a lottery (perhaps one from a foreign country) that you don’t remember entering.
  • Standard phishing scams use e-mail to direct potential victims to phony Web Pagesto steal their identities.
  • Phishing scams ask you to call a customer support number. On the other end of the phone line, a person or an audio response unit waits to take your account number, personal identification number, password, or other valuable personal data.

 What do you do if you have fallen victim? The most sensible thing to do is to close the email account and report it to the appropriate authorities. This could be your system administrator at work, your Internet Service Provider or the police (especially if you have been defrauded with money). Inform your contacts about the fraud and alert them to delete the email. Closing of the affected email account is easy and opening a new email account address is also relatively easy. For emails hosted free such as hotmail, yahoo or gmail, not opening your account in a span of 3-6 months will render it suspended or even closed. This is one way to close your email address if it has been a victim to email scams.

 If you receive an email that you think may be a scam, send it to the abuse desk of the internet service provider. Also, if the email appears to be impersonating a bank or other company or organization, forward the message to the actual organization so that they can act accordingly. Also remember that the email chains normally sent across the web might contain some yet undiscovered virus or scams. I personally do not forward email chains no matter how lovely or righteous it may be. It is just not cool.

 Finally, the use of email to communicate is still one of the best ways to maximize the use of the information technology. The internet itself is an excellent way to share information, experiences, bring people closer and advance the various aspects of life. It can also be equally destructive and mean. This is applies to most aspects such as the radio, television and mobile phones. We all need to pro-actively take part in policing our ranks and weed out the malicious use of such wonderful technology.

 Within 24-hours of receiving the email scam, my business associate in the Philippines immediately emailed us using his brand-new email address and further instructed us to disregard his former email address. Well done. (Michael Duque)

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