Computer Crime Research Center


Spam e-mails pose many risks

Date: January 12, 2009

As spam e-mail gets more sophisticated, including spam posing as coming from familiar e-mail addresses, or even your own, it’s increasingly difficult for people to determine safe messages from detrimental ones. Marc H. Seidler, president and senior systems engineer of The Computer Doctors in Westminster, said spam e-mail is similar to junk mail delivered by the post office, but over the years, it has transformed into something more malicious.

“The main problem is that it clogs your e-mail inbox and is an inconvenience,” he said. “This has morphed to include links that can allow ... infections to install on your computer.”

Unless users are absolutely sure that a link within an e-mail is authentic, Seidler warned against opening it. “E-mail links are very difficult to know whether or not they are legit,” he said. “If you want to buy from a retailer’s Web site, actually type the [retailer’s] Web address yourself.” Simply identifying an authentic e-mail can be difficult, said Jim Bush, owner of Bush Computers and Services in Eldersburg. “Most commonly, you will find [spam] e-mails saying, ‘We had a security problem with your account. Please respond to this e-mail,’ ” he said. “Two of the most common are e-mails [that look like they are] from eBay and PayPal.”

Spam e-mail can appear as though it is from a reputable company, Bush said, but if the e-mail refers to the recipient as an “account holder,” and not by name, one should be suspicious. Spelling errors within an e-mail message are also red flags, Bush said, and most reputable businesses will not request personal information in an e-mail.

“If you are suspicious, just call a representative from the company,” Bush said. “Rather than just following the link and doing whatever they say, open a new browser window or tab and find out how to call.”

Web pages can also be cloned to legitimate Web pages that already exist — another reason why it is best to re-type Web addresses instead of clicking links, at all times, according to Bush.
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