Unsolicited bulk emails are pretty annoying as they stack up in your spam folder, but for the most part they are pretty low on the spam email ladder. Each day hundreds of billions of email advertisements are sent, most selling miracle weight loss cures, male enhancement products, knock-off merchandise, online degree programs and prescription drugs.
Tip: In case it wasn't obvious, purchasing anything from these emails is almost assuredly a poor decision.
One of the hardest types of email spam to spot is phishing scam emails. These buggers are designed to look like official emails from financial institutions or big companies like eBay and PayPal, but actually direct victims to equally official looking scam sites. This tricks people into volunteering their usernames and passwords, which are then used by the site owners, the scammers, to compromise the real accounts.
Tip: As a rule of thumb, always visit an official site, not whatever comes up when clicking a link in an email, and always check the URL before signing into any site.
Nigerian 419 Scams
If you have an email account, more than likely you've received a seemingly amazing offer out of the blue by some stranger from a faraway land. Someone claiming to be the agent for a long lost relative, a lottery service, an employer or even someone looking for love will offer a large sum of money, only asking for a small percentage in return for their time, insurance, shipping or other seemingly legit reason. The scammer then sends a fake check and asks for money to be wired back. Victims never receive the large sum from the check and are out the small fee, usually a few hundred or thousand dollars.
Tip: Plain and simple, if it appears too good to be true, most likely it is.
More of a technique used to make other email spam tactics seem more believable, many spammers will send messages which appear to originate from a different email address than they actually do. This spoofing technique makes it appear as though a fraudulent email actually came from a trusted source, company or organization. This builds the trust of the victim, making them more likely to take part in whichever scam is included in the message.
Tip: When in doubt, ask that person or company directly, offline, if they sent the message before handing over any personal information or money.
Trojan Horse Email
Considered ancient in the email spam history books, email worms are nasty little buggers which not only infect the victim computer but also sends itself to everyone in the victim's contact list. The most famous email worm was the ILOVEYOU bug which debuted in 2000. It was highly successful as who won't open an email from a loved one titled I love you? Once opened and downloaded, the script attached would damage the local computer and send itself out to everyone the victim knows.
Tip: If you receive an email with an attachment from someone who usually doesn't send such things, before opening or downloading anything, take a moment to disconnect and call or text them to confirm it's a legit attachment.
Technically, any unsolicited bulk messages sent indiscriminately are considered spam. This includes when legit websites and companies that you use send out advertisements, newsletters and other junk messages. Most websites these days ask you if you'd like to be included in their communications however some will automatically add you to their mailing list simply for signing up for their site.
Tip: Take a minute to create a free secondary email address for use casually around the web. Use this email address when signing up for non-essential websites so the potential for spam doesn't end up in your primary email inbox.
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