Scam artists embracing opportunities from boom in social media
Alan Zisman (c) 2010 First published in Business
in Vancouver May 11 - 17, 2010:
High Tech Office column
Even though my e-mail service (I use Google’s Gmail) filters out most
spam, scams and virus-laden attachments, a few messages trying to
entrap me make it through.
Because I have a Canadian “.ca” e-mail address, I attract an added share of Canada-theme fakes. For example:
•My “account security validation has expired . . . click here to get
started,” claimed a note, seemingly from the TD Bank, just one of a
variety of fraudulent requests I get, apparently from Canadian banks
and even Quebec-based caisse pops. This time, the “click here” link
goes to a Brazil-based “.br” website. Turn on your browser’s status bar
so that when your mouse hovers over a link you’ll see where it really
•“You are eligible to receive a charge refund,” promises an e-mail
claiming to be from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). How nice! Click
here to receive $386. Somehow, I doubt it. Remember, neither banks nor
the CRA are sending out e-mail notices of this sort. Never. They’re
guaranteed to be scams.
With the increasing popularity of Facebook, scams based on that service
are also proliferating. Some of them come as e-mail messages pretending
to be e-mail notifications that someone’s contacted your Facebook
account, mimicking real Facebook notification messages. Apparently,
someone named Carmella is wondering if we’ve met before. The link to
read the message includes the word “facebook” in the address but is not
to Facebook.com. Sorry, Carmela, we’ve never met.
And while free ads on Craigslist take an ever-growing bite out of print
newspaper classified ad revenue, they also open up a path for scams.
When I posted an ad on Craigslist-Vancouver to sell a digital camera,
the first reply I received, from a Gerrald Philips, looked legitimate,
wondering “wats the firm price.” On hearing back from me, he responded:
“Thanks for you reply toward my request for your item, i am very happy
to hear that the item is still available, please send me your paypal
e-mail or invoice to enable me make the payment as soon as possible. i
am a medical doctor here in toronto and i am buying this item (gift)
for my son that was currently transfered to west africa. you will mail
the item to him through canada post regular air mail. i will be adding
the shipping cost ($150) during payment of your the item once you get
back to me. i need this item as soon as possible. i travelled to texas
for a seminar, that is why can’t pick up locally. hope it is in good
How many reasons to be suspicious can you count? The “medical doctor”
who is spelling-, grammar- and capitalization-challenged? The Toronto
resident who doesn’t realize that Vancouver isn’t local? The promise to
pay $150 over my asking price for shipping? Or is it the request that I
send the camera to West Africa? Tempting as it might be to accept an
offer for significantly more than my asking price, I don’t think so!
When Craigslist forwards e-mail messages from potential buyers to
sellers it adds a header, in prominentcapital letters, warning:
“CRAIGSLIST ADVISORY – AVOID SCAMS BY DEALING LOCALLY.” That’s good
advice. Equally worth remembering is the old cliché that if something
seems too good to be true, that’s usually the case.
Gmail filters out most of the stuff I’d just as soon not see: e-mails
promising watches, pharmaceuticals, cheap software and improved sex
(and sex organs). It is, however, worthwhile poking through the spam
mailbox from time to time. Not just to see what you’re missing: the
best of filters make mistakes and sometimes filter out legitimate
messages. Just now, for instance, I found a mistakenly filtered notice
confirming a payment I’d made yesterday using PayPal.
Of course, a few messages lower, there was a faux-PayPal notice, hoping
I would click on the link and type in the password to my account. Silly
as they may sometimes look, e-mail scams continue because some of us
follow up on them.