Don Rose: On Spam, Scams and Spyware

Don Rose has some tips for you to pass along to your less techie friends — tips that will help them spot email scams, spam, spyware and even viruses.

Illustration of Reynard the Fox circa 1869 by Ernest Griset courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Everyone has gullible friends. Make yours less likely to get spammed, scammed or infected with virus or spyware with the 10 tips and tricks I’ve gathered for you here.They’re great for helping you help your gullible friends — or new computer users — spot spam in the speediest way.
(1) Did you expect to get this email from the person sending it to you?
If  you know the sender, but he or she  did not tell you a message was coming, and you didn’t expect it, read it carefully. Does it sound like something he or she would send? Does it sound like the person’s voice? If not, ask them if they sent it. If not, delete.
(2) Has the person sending the email had NO contact with you in a long time?
If not, and if there is no explanation or preamble setting things up  — like, “Hey, it has been a while, but here is something you will like” — then it is probably spam. Again, ask the sender if they actually sent the email.  Remember the golden anti-spam rule: Ask first, open later.
(3) Is the email just a link with nothing else in it? Or just an attachment with no text in the body of the email?
In general, be cautious about links and attachments. Unless you know where they are coming from — and even if you do — they are always suspect. Be careful before clicking a link or opening an attachment that will infect your computer or add spyware to it, which will slow your system to a crawl. If the attachment is an executable file — an .exe — don’t open. Delete.
(4) Look closely at the link address (URL) when someone sends you a link – is the root “(domain).com”, or something different than a .com?
If it is not a .com address, that link is potentially dangerous. For example, .me is an address from Montenegro, .ru means it is a Russian URL address, .cn is China, .it is Italy and so on. Foreign top level domains are popular these days, but use common sense.
A related tip: Try to copy the URL’s root — the part that comes before the domain .com, .net and so on — and search online to see if it’s a scam or warning. In fact you should probably search the root along with the word scam, spam or warning. Often, others will have already flagged the site as spam or bogus or a ripoff if it truly is.
(5) Is the email riddled with grammar and/or spelling errors, or weird formatting, like bad spacing, strange characters or ALL CAPS?
Probably spam. Delete.
(6) Is the email overly friendly, overly formal, or otherwise in a tone you don’t normally hear from your friends and colleagues?
Probably spam. Delete.
(7) Is the story in the email implausible or unlikely or too good to be true?
Companies generally don’t email you offering free iPads or money from a foreign account. Sad but true. Don’t be suckered by your inner greedy bastard, if you have an inner greedy bastard.
(8) Does the subject of the email contain CAPitAls or odd characters embedded in one or more words?
If so, likely spam. Spammers and scammers often put characters like asterisks inside words to hide them from spam spotting programs, since such programs may be looking for viagra but not v&iAgr*a.
(9) Does the sender’s name look like something from another language,or planet?
If the email is from someone with a bizarre name — say, Mr. A. Penthrop Gunderstunmpf, Esq. — it is probably spam or a scam. Delete. Nothing against the Gunderstunmpfs family, though.
(10) Does the email ask you to send money — or suggest that a Nigerian prince or a deceased relative in a foreign country has left you a fortune. 
I find that 50 percent or more of all spam is really a scam that involves money somehow. So if you want to weed out unwanted spam way fast, delete it when dollars or “deals” are described in the details.
In summary, beware of being unaware.  Tell your friends the four L’s: Logic leads to less loss. With the above rules, you rule.