BEWARE: SCAMS, IDENTITY THEFT, VIRUSES AND STRANGE STUFF ON THE NET - Gainer Gives Advice To Herald Readers

(03/08/2004)

Former Calhoun resident Stephen Gainer, who has fussed with computers since 1985 and has been employed in the high-tech computer world for several years, says he has followed problems with viruses, identity theft and other scams on the net. Gainer now lives near Boston.

Gainer says there are currently four types of email scams and viruses that are making the rounds, and "I wanted to warn everyone about them so that maybe they can avoid the problems that they create. I will list them in the order of importance, and I strongly encourage Hur Herald readers to take a few minutes and read this. I already know people that have undergone the pain of receiving these types of emails, and I would like to help folks avoid it if I can. If anyone has any questions or comments, please drop me a line at any time. I'm happy to help in any way I can."

"WE NEED INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR ACCOUNT" - This is perhaps the one that is truly the most dangerous, because it isn't a virus, but instead is a means of identity theft. In this case, you will receive an email that looks as if it came from your ISP (Internet Service Provider), or perhaps your credit card company, PayPal, or something like that. It will look VERY official, and will say something like "We must confirm information about you, or your account will be canceled".

You are supposed to click on a link and then enter your information, which usually includes a credit card number. NO legitimate company will send this type of email. Let me say that again. NO LEGITIMATE COMPANY WILL SEND THIS TYPE OF EMAIL! Some companies used to send these, however the scam has become so prevalent that all of them have stopped.

If you receive this type of email, do NOT respond in any way. If you have any doubts, then simply call the company. If it is legitimate, then they will be happy to take this information over the phone. That way, YOU have placed the call to a known company, so you can feel secure in giving them the information. But under no circumstances should you enter your Social Security Number, credit card information, bank account, or any other type of information into an email of this sort. Your best bet is to delete the email immediately.

"YOUR COMPUTER IS NOT PROTECTED. PLEASE RUN THE ATTACHED SOFTWARE" - This email will look exactly as if it came from your ISP. If you run the attachment, you have now just loaded a virus into your computer. Again, NO ISP will send an email of this sort. If the ISP had software that they wanted you to run, which is possible, then they would direct you their web site where you would download the software from an FTP site. The reason that an ISP would not send this type of email, is because it is too expensive for them.

It is far cheaper to have the customer come to there FTP site (even if you don't realize that that is where you are going) and download any software from there. Should you receive this type of email, delete it immediately. I would then recommend that you empty the trash, or deleted items folder as well.

"MAIL SERVER...RETURNED MAIL" - Most ISP's offer a service that if you send an email to an undeliverable address, they will generate an email back to you saying that it was undeliverable. This is a good thing and very useful. (you can test this by simply sending an email to a non-existent email address, such as SamSpade@usa.net. This will generate the undeliverable email) What has happened is that email scammers have appropriated this very useful service. They will create an email that looks exactly like an undeliverable response. The difference is, they will tell you to click on a link embedded in the email. If you click, then whamo! You have a virus. I received one of these today.

Undeliverable messages are very useful, in case you have mistyped an address. Just remember, there is NO reason to click on anything in an undeliverable email response. It is for information purposes only. A good way to tell whether or not it is legitimate, is to simply look at the address that they say was undeliverable. If you don't recognize it, then delete it! In any event, don't click on anything in the email.

"IF YOU FORWARD THIS EMAIL, SOMEONE WILL DONATE MONEY TO A SICK CHILD" - This one is simply a pain in the rear. There is no virus or identity theft issues. It is just a crock. Although it is rumored that the CIA and the NSA have the ability to track emails, the computing power and man power that it would take to do so would be prohibitive unless they are targeting specific individuals. To prove this, just think of the math involved. On any given day in the United States, millions of emails fly through hyperspace. Or, in the case of a company, the emails only reside internally on the company's servers, and never reach the outside world. When you send an email, it is first sent to your ISP's server, which is connected into the internet backbone. The email then moves as a data packet through nodes that are scattered about the US and the world, seeking the path of least resistance.

As an example, I once sent an email to my neighbor that lived upstairs. When I looked at the path the email had taken, it had actually gone to Australia first, and then was routed back to the US for delivery to my upstairs neighbor. If you would like to see the tortuous path that an email takes, here is how (if you are using Outlook Express):
1. Click on the email.
2. Go to FILE/PROPERTIES
3. Click on the DETAILS tab
4. Click on the MESSAGE SOURCE button
This type of email causes no real harm, except for clogging up people's IN boxes with a load of junk. If you really want to help someone, then write a check to the charity of your choice. But delete these emails, please, don't forward them.

"I hope this information is of some value. If you forward this message to 10 of your friends, you will not receive luck, blessings, the winning lottery numbers, or help a sick child." We might add to Stephen's helpful hints, many of the forwarded messages received regularly regarding some traumatic event, political spin, guns being taken away, crosses being taken off the graves at Arlington Cemetery, free trips, bizarre happenings, and you-name-it - are often hoaxes or doctored spins.

At the Herald, we are still receiving some of the same forwarded messages that we received several years ago when we first went on the net.

Many of them can be checked for accuracy by going on a web site: Urban Legends.

email: Steph_Gainer@comcast.net


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