I’m kinda fascinated with spam (the email kind, not the tasty breakfast meat). I’ve had one or more email accounts since the early days of the Internet and it’s been fascinating to watch how the spammer industry has adjusted to different efforts by email recipients to thwart them.

I’ve recently seen an increase in the number of emails I get (from complete strangers of course) asking me to help them bring some money they’ve acquired into the US through my bank accounts. What gets me though is that they still keep coming. Do people really, still fall for that? Do people really think someone’s going to just give them millions? Are people really that gullible? I think perhaps they are.

In the last year, I’ve received a whole bunch of spam designed to look like the FBI or IRS is trying to give me back some money I’m supposedly owed. I can’t believe people fall for those scams either. The FBI doesn’t have my email address and I know the IRS isn’t emailing me.

What’s funny is watching the spammers as they test their spamming software. I received the following email today:

Figure 1

Oooh, a Bank of America bill payment was cancelled. I’d better do something about that. Actually, I usually get emails from all sorts of banks – ones I don’t have accounts with, so it’s easy to tell which ones are spam.  This one happens to ‘be’ from a bank I actually do business with, so it was worth looking into this one. The first thing I noticed was that even though the message was ‘from’ Bank of America, it actually came from a Yahoo address. Yep, times must be tough if BofA has switched to using Yahoo for it’s corporate email. Right!

The next thing I noticed was that there was no body to the email. Interesting. What am I supposed to do here? There’s no content in the email. Nice. I guess the spammer forgot to include the actual body of the email message. How then are they going to get me to do something dangerous – like click an innocuous looking link in the email?

I also love how this particular spammer included a whole bunch of email addresses in the To field. Ya, I’m sure Bank of America’s sending out emails to a bunch of people simultaneously about a cancelled bill payment. What, so we all had the same bill payment scheduled?

Anyway, experience and some common sense makes it really easy to identify spam messages. I know I’m more technical than the everyday person, but how hard is it to tell this is not a valid email? Why do people keep falling for these kinds of things? You’d think by now we’d all be trained on how to avoid scams and spam.

I used to use Qurb to block spam in my email account. I LOVED it. It was essentially a whitelisting tool – it only allowed messages in that were from people I’d emailed or from contacts defined in my address book. It was a perfect solution and I loved it (I know, I already said that). I’d periodically go into my spam box and unblock legitimate emails (the sender would then automatically become whitelisted) and after 30 days, Qurb would delete everything else). Did I mention I loved that particular solution?

Many years CA purchased Qurb and changed it to CA AntiSpam. Not much with the product changed, so I was pretty happy with it for a very long time. I renewed my subscription year after year and was very happy with the product. Unfortunately, CA got greedy and decided the bundle their Antivirus with the Antispam solution. You couldn’t purchase one without the other. I’ve always been a big fan of Norton Antivirus, so I had no interest in acquiring a license to CA Antivirus. For a while, I’d renew anyway and just disable the antivirus, but that became tedious and when I upgraded to a 64-bit version of Windows then later upgraded to Windows 7 the solution stopped working for me anyway, so I gave up. I supposedly have a license for the software that’s compatible with the 64-bit version of Windows 7 I’m running, but I just can’t get it work, so I gave up. Too bad, I really wish I had that product running on this computer.

I have a ‘work’ email account I use for business related email correspondence; it’s connected with my side business, McNelly SoftWorks. I use Thunderbird for that email account and for years was very careful to not post that email address anywhere where strangers could get to it and send me spam. Something interesting happened recently, and I got on one or more spammer’s lists and a good 50% of the email I get to that account is now spam. What happened? Well, I didn’t do anything to put my email address on the spam lists (as far as I know), but one of my old customers was regularly getting virus attacks and during one of them, his virus grabbed my email address and gave it to spammers. I started getting a bunch of spam messages from this particular customer, and a few days later, I began getting 50 or so spam messages a day. I’d never thought of that scenario, and I wish I could do something to get off those spam lists. I don’t want to change the email address; I’ve had that one for a very long time.

Ugh, I don’t know what to do. The Bayesian filtering in Outlook is pretty good, but I still get a bunch of spam I have to mark manually and delete. I wish there was something like Qurb for Thunderbird. Let me know if you know of a solution.

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  • Guest - Karl-Henry Martinsso

    Well, anti-spammers have the following "rules":<br /><br />Rule #0: Spam is theft.<br />Rule #1: Spammers lie.<br />Rule #2: If a spammer seems to be telling the truth, see Rule #1.<br />Rule #3: Spammers are stupid.<br /><br />More at http://forum.spamcop.net/forums/index.php?showtopic=930 :-)<br /><br />But there are many people that fall for those scams you talk about, thinking they will get money. You see articles all the time of someone embezzeling thousands or even hundred of thousands of dollars, sending them to Nigeria or Ghana with the hope to make millions.<br />I read somewhere that the 419 scams (this kind of advance-fee frauds) is teh second biggest industry/money maker in Nigeria...

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