SPAM (email, not the meat)

SPAM: What to do and not do.

“How do I stop all the email spam?” Actually I’m asked this question frequently and I have a few quick tips for reducing your email spam down to a low roar. While it is virtually impossible to completely rid yourself of spam without actually terminating all your known email addresses, you can filter it down to a manageable size.

First,let’s take a look at how and why you are getting bombarded with these unwanted pests. Logging onto a website where you are asked for your email address is one of the biggest instigators. As mentioned before in this column, we discussed reading the fine print before typing in your email address and clicking that infamous submit button.

A great number of those sites state in their terms and conditions that they have the right to sell your email address, or at least share it with their affiliate companies. While the first company may specifically say they will not sell it, they do say they may share it with an affiliate company who does reserve the right to sell your info.  See the tips below for ideas on how to avoid this.

Another trend growing in popularity is sending #whatever to a certain number using your cell phone. In return you are registered to win a tank of gas or a $50 department store card. Do not fall for this one either. Here is the scoop on how that works for their benefit and your misery. This company (whoever it may be) shells out 50 bucks for a gift card or tank of gas and in turn they receive hundreds of active cell phone numbers they can put on a list for sale. Trust me, they are going to make a lot more than $50 selling that list with your phone number on it. I have seen this same tactic used with email also.

So if you are not really interested in acquiring a Russian mail order bride, dating Asian women or getting free samples of Viagra, then follow these simple rules to a cleaner email inbox.

Tips for reducing or avoiding email spam overload:

  1. Do not use your daily email for logging onto new websites. I maintain a separate email account that I’ve dubbed as my spam mail. Simply create a new email address from any free server such as Yahoo, Gmail, Outlook, AOL (yes it’s still around), GMX and so on. Only use your daily email for co-workers, friends and family. If there is a site you would like to see regular email notices from; you may return to that site and put in your personal email address. Just remember to read those terms and conditions before doing so.
  2. Do not unsubscribe from a stray junk email that may wander into your inbox. Often when you do this, you are sending that server a message that your email address is good and prime for them to distribute or sell. Simply delete the email without opening it. You may also select it and choose the option “mark as spam” from your email menu and later empty your spam folder. Eventually your email server will notice a pattern and automatically forward any future emails from that source directly to your spam folder.
  3. Use caution when choosing the “reply all” option in response to emails. This includes emails from people that you know and trust. This was mentioned briefly in last week’s article “email spoof.” Using the reply all option inadvertently puts you and everyone else on that email string at risk for spam. You may know and trust the friend who sent you that email, but they may have friends you don’t know, and those friends have friends and so on.

In conclusion, following these three basic rules of thumb regarding email will go a long way in reducing your daily spam intake. Granted these are not the only things you can do, but they are my top three picks for anyone wanting to reduce the spam in their inbox.

 

Email Spoofs

Email spoof, what is it and how to avoid being spoofed.

Most of us have heard of, or unfortunately had, viruses on our computer at some point in our lives. An email spoof is a little more inconspicuous but still prominent in the world of computing.

The word spoof means to falsify, hoax or deceive according to Webster’s dictionary. A spoofed email is intentionally altered by the sender to imply that it is coming from a legitimate source such as a bank, company, friend or an online store. The sender will alter the email with a “letterhead” look to imply someone else is trying to contact you. In many cases the spoofed email is a form of phishing or (con man) attack. In other situations, spoofing is a way of dishonestly marketing an online service or trying to sell you a bogus product.

The business spoof

Most of these will have the appearance of a well known company such Dell Computers or Microsoft. Often they are trying to get you to purchase some fake warranty or upgrade for your hardware or software. When in doubt, call the company directly and speak with the sales department about the service or product being offered in your email. Chances are, they know nothing of it or they have been flooded with similar calls.

The personal spoof

Most of us have seen this one. You get an email from a close friend saying he is stuck in the Cayman Islands and has lost his billfold, passport and everything but the clothes on his back. Naturally you want to help. After all, this is a friend of yours. This is exactly what the spoofer is relying on. In the email they are always asking for money to be wired via Western Union or some other source. Don’t fall victim to this one. Simply pick up the phone and call your friend. Most often you will find he or she is at work or home and oblivious to the situation.

The data spoof

Dishonest users or con men will alter different parts of an email disguising themselves as someone else for the purpose of getting your email contacts. The types of information they are trying to obtain and alter are;

1. From – name and address

2. Reply-To – name and address

3. Source IP – address (your IP address)

The first two properties are easily altered by using settings in your Microsoft Outlook, Gmail, Hotmail or other email services. The third property (IP address) is a bit more difficult for the con man to alter since it is difficult to make false IP addresses convincing. Difficult, but not impossible.

While some spoof-altered emails are falsified by hand, meaning a hacker actually sitting down at his computer and manually altering emails, most are created by software such as ratware. Ratware programs will often run massive built-in word lists to generate thousands of target email addresses, spoof a source email and then shoot out those emails to the list generated targets. These email address lists are generated from your contact list.

Defending yourself against spoof emails

This is where common sense and curiosity should kick in. Question the email and its contents. Be particularly cautious if it has an attachment, this is almost always a good tell-tale sign that something is not right. Think in rational terms, I know my neighbor is not in the Caymans since I just saw him last night grilling in his backyard. The IRS is not going to contact someone via email about an outstanding tax debt. If they want to contact that person, they will send a certified (hard copy) letter to their home.

Conclusion; investigate before you click on that email. Opening it may do more harm than you are able to undo. My own rule of thumb is; when in doubt, delete. Deleting suspicious emails and installing a good anti-virus program, are the best options you have for cutting your risk of being spoofed. You should also refrain from using the “reply all” option in your emails. However, while it does have some relevance here, it will be better covered in next weeks article regarding spam.

Terms and conditions may apply

Most of us never take the time to actually read the “Terms and Conditions” that go along with our purchase of devices and software. These conditions limit us in ways we never imagined possible. Some allow the company to shut off our computers or make us responsible for accidental damages, while others lock us into two- or three-year contracts. The later is one of my most despised provisions – you see it all the time – and I think it should die a quick death in some Louisiana Swamp. But that’s just me.

Companies often do such things and they do it with our consent whether we realize it or not.

Below are a few excerpts from actual terms and conditions followed by a short comment to put them in a layman’s perspective. They were picked at random from a list of popular companies that almost everyone is familiar with. Not picking on any company per se, almost all of them have these same or similar terms and conditions.

(AT&T Terms and Conditions Section 7)

“7. FORCE MAJEURE

AT&T shall have no liability for any loss or damage caused by any of the following force majeure conditions: fires, floods, explosions, strikes, embargoes, power blackouts, earthquakes,volcanic actions, wars, water, the elements, labor disputes, riots, thefts, acts of the public enemy, accidents, acts of God, acts of government, acts or omissions of Customer, acts or omissions of third parties, changes in work practices, inability to obtain necessary labor or materials, acts or omissions of any communications carriers or any other cause beyond the reasonable control of AT&T, whether or not similar to the foregoing.”

This basically implies they will not cover anything other than a defect in the device itself despite the fact they advertise certain models of their phones as being waterproof. AT&T, like Netflix and many other companies, has an arbitration clause that limits the consumer to arbitration only. So, no lawsuits. And what exactly is an “act of government?” You may need a lawyer to explain that one. You may also want to check your homeowner’s insurance. You may find you’re walking around with an uninsured $500 cell phone.

(Microsoft Windows 7 Terms and Conditions Section 8)

8. SCOPE OF LICENSE.

The software is licensed, not sold. This agreement only gives you some rights

to use the features included in the software edition you licensed. Microsoft reserves all other rights unless applicable law gives you more rights despite this limitation, youmay use the software only as expressly permitted in this agreement. In doing so, you must comply with any technical limitations in the software that only allow you to use it in certain ways.”

 

Okay Microsoft, so you’re telling me that despite the fact that I spent $400 on this software, I don’t actually own it, I am just paying for the “license” or right to use it. I know from personal experience that if you upgrade four or more hardware items on your computer at one time, Microsoft considers that a “different” computer and a new license is required for it. An alternative for this is the Linux operating system. Linux is free to download and install on as many computers as you would like without registration or activation.You may also modify and freely distribute Linux with one stipulation: you cannot charge for it.

(Netflix Terms and Conditions Section 15)

15.Arbitration Agreement

If you are a Netflix member in the United States (including its possessions and territories), you and Netflix agree that any dispute, claim or controversy arising out of or relating in any way to the Netflix service, these Terms of Use and this Arbitration Agreement, shall be determined by binding arbitration.The arbitration will be governed by the Commercial Arbitration Rules and the Supplementary Procedures for Consumer Related Disputes (collectively, “AAA Rules”) of the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”), as modified by this Agreement, and will be administered by the AAA.”

BINDING ARBITRATION SIMPLY MEANS THAT YOU AGREE TO GIVE UP YOUR RIGHT TO GO TO COURT OR SUE. On a side note, if you own a cell phone or have a credit card, then you have given up your right to trial and have agreed to arbitration only, regardless of the circumstances. Simply put; if your cell phone blows up and burns the side of your face, you have no rights to sue, but simply agree to the bindings of an arbitration.

 

So the next time you sign up for or purchase a product, you might want to do a little research and actually read through those “terms and conditions.” You may find you have few rights as a consumer, or you may find yourself locked into one of those aforementioned two-year contracts with no escape. When doing your research for phones, computers etc. read the fine print and look at free alternatives that have no binding and limiting contracts. They are out there, but it takes some searching to find them.