Friday, October 19, 2012

Dissecting a Message: A Lesson on Spotting Spam


Ugh! Don't you wish that you could cut the spam completely out of your daily e-mail? Simple junk mail is one thing but sometimes the spam that shows up at the electronic inbox can be harmful to your computer, your pocketbook, and even your credit score depending on what you do with your spam.

Avoid troubles caused by spam.

Spam can also show up in more places than just your e-mail inbox. Spam can be found on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, discussion forums, wikis, in text messages, your voicemail, and even your 'snail mail' box at the front door.

What is most important for you is that you know how to spot the spam and deal with it appropriately to minimize your risk of getting a virus, being tricked into spending money, or worse - having your identity stolen.

To help you look for clues to identifying spam and other malevolent messages, I am going to use an example of one that I received today on my Facebook wall. If you haven't noticed, Facebook is a real popular place and that makes it a prime target for people to spam because they have the potential for a greater "return on investment" so to speak due to all the traffic.

Waking up

One of the very first things I do in the morning is check my e-mail. Facebook is kind enough to let me know when someone interacts with my page and guess what? One of my friends commented on a picture that I posted yesterday!

Cool! Someone commented on my photo! Hey, wait a minute...

I noticed, however, upon further inspection of the e-mail, that the message was more than a bit peculiar. Here is what I noticed.

  • Spelling and grammatical errors

Look at the message...

  • webb site

  • delivred

  • quotes on their own line - who does that?

Now granted, there are many people who don't give a rip about spelling or spell check but know that this is very common with spam messages. This should be throwing up some red flags for you.

  • An offer that sounds too good to be true

A glitching website that is giving away iPads? Sure, I would love a free iPad - who wouldn't? Wow! What great fortune! How can I pass up this opportunity?

  • A call to quick action!

A frequently used tactic is to use a great sounding deal like free iPads to trick people into acting before thinking things through. Sad part is... they have your money or personal information by the time you realize that the shiny new iPad will never even make it to the UPS truck much less your doorstep.

Other Subtle Clues

You should be always on the lookout for things that logically just don't add up. Here are some things that just didn't add up in my scenario.

  1. Recall that someone commented on my photo... I did post a photo yesterday so it is not surprising that someone might have noticed it and made a comment. However, the comment itself has absolutely nothing to do with the photo.

  2. What I have not mentioned yet is that the email notification came at 4:30 in the morning - A time when I know my friend is fast asleep instead of commenting on my photos.

  3. You have to take into account who the message is from. Do you know them? If you never heard of them - be skeptical! In this case, it is one of my Facebook friends so I do know them but I also know that I seldom get comments from them - so this post, especially based on content, becomes out of character.

  4. This message does not ask for any personal information but I am pretty sure that if I were to visit the link provided in the message that I would not only be asked for my address to send the iPad but possibly even get a free "gift" in the form of a virus or malware that would keep sending sweet offers.

  5. In e-mails, look for Re: in the subject line. If someone responds to an e-mail that you sent them, you will most likely see the Re: along with the same subject line you wrote in the original e-mail. So ask yourself - Did I send Jimmy Joe an e-mail asking about that 20% off sale on Rolex watches?

  6. Consider the quality of the writing - if you know the "author", you may have an idea of how well they write/type. Does the message look like something they might have crafted? For example, I would be skeptical if a message from my grandma was full of text speak or language uncommon to her generation.

Why comment on THIS pic about some iPad giveaway - even if it were true? Doesn't make sense.


I think it is very good to have a healthy dose of skepticism with you when engaging in online activities. Whether you are researching a topic of curiosity, responding to e-mail, or just hanging out with friends on Facebook - there will be a risk of spam, scams, viruses, and less than honest individuals looking to take advantage of unsuspecting surfers of the Web.
Take some advice on the threats that come in the form of messages. They can be e-mails, comments on your blog or Facebook page, tweets, or replies in your favorite discussion forum. Look for clues to let you know that it is time to be careful.

Are there lots of spelling and/or grammatical errors?
Does the post ask you to act fast?
Is there an offer that sounds too good to be true?
Does the message ask you for personal information?
Is the sender's name unfamiliar to you?
Is there something about the message that just doesn't seem right?
Does it say Re:(insert subject of your choice here) but you didn't send them anything?

If you can answer yes to any of these questions - BE SKEPTICAL!

Below are some things you can do next after encountering creepy spam or other scams. If you are uncomfortable performing any of the tasks or are unsure if it is necessary, ask for help from someone who is OK with handling it for you.

Steps to Take

  1. Please - do not click on any links in a suspicious e-mail or message post.

  2. Delete the message if possible.

  3. Contact the person that the message appears to have come from if you know who they are. Let them know you got a strange message with their name on it and verify whether or not they really sent it. If they deny it, suggest that they scan for viruses and malware and recommend to them that changing their account passwords might be a good idea.

  4. Scan your own computer for malware and viruses. You never know when odd messages might have something embedded in them that placed itself on your computer.

Hopefully this was helpful in some way.
Stay safe online!

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