Confessions of a Verbivore

January 19, 2014

Spam: Don’t you love it?

Filed under: 'Net Scams — jargontalk @ 8:35 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Now that I have your attention, let me explain.

From the beginning of the Internet as we know it years ago, the transmission of junk email, what we now refer to as spam, has been expressly prohibited. There are many variations of the story about how Gary Thuerk, a marketing manager at Digital Equipment Corp., sent his first mass e-mailing to 400 customers over the Arpanet in 1978, hoping to get attention for Digital’s new T-series of VAX systems. He was scolded and told not to do it again, but it was enough to earn him the title of the ‘Father of Spam’… and as the scale of the spam problem has grown, ISPs and the public have turned to government for relief from spam, which has failed to materialize.

Spam folder Taking us a quantum leap forward to today, most of us have an email system that has a junk mail or spam folder, one in which most of the unsolicited (or potentially dangerous) messages are dumped periodically. I had occasion recently to check my spam folder when a friend sent a message complaining that I had not responded to an earlier message. Checked and retrieved it, but what I also found was an amazing array of junk email from around the globe, and the array of topics ranged from hilarious to ridiculous.

There were a number of “Your future starts here!” messages from a familiar online university, along with other online courses for a “Degree for Criminal Justice.” Nice, except that I already have degrees. There were numerous offers for “Swiss Luxury Watch Replicas,” fakes bearing such names as Rolex, Omega, Breitling and others, and from many sites. Don’t need a “Replica Omega Seamaster 007 James Bond” watch; I’ll stick to my real Seikos, thank you. And a number of offers from various sources offering a “shocking new video presentation” if I “want to sleep with 6 girls in the next 6 days” which were reminiscent of a particular scene from Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant 1987 film Full Metal Jacket.

But the best of the best were offers like these that follow, and the more interesting misspellings and grammar errors are highlighted, since that is one basic way of detecting email scams at a glance. These are just a few that I found  

FBI Foreign Fund Payment Advice (Treat as urgent) !

FBI Headquarters
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20535-0001
From The Desk of James B. Comey, Director Federal Bureau Of Investigation (FBI).

ATTENTION:- Beneficiary,

We have series of Financial cases like (Unpaid Foreign Debts) that needs to be urgently resolve.

NOTE: The National Central Bureau of Interpol Enhanced by the United Nations and Federal Bureau of Investigation have successfully passed a mandate to the current president of Nigeria his Excellency President Good luck Jonathan to boost the exercise of clearing all foreign debts owed to individuals and organizations who have been found not to have receive their Contract Sum, Lottery/Gambling, Inheritance and the likes.

Fortunately, It is obvious that you have not receive your Contract Fund from the Central Bank of Nigeria which is to the tune of US$25,000,000.00 (Twenty Five Million United States Dollars) Therefore to effect the release of your fund, you are advice to contact the Governor Central Bank of Nigeria in person of Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi for immediate transfer of your fund.

Contact the CBN Office Below to claim your fund:
Central Bank of Nigeria,
Plot 33, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Way
Central Business District,
Cadastral Zone,
Abuja, Federal Capital Territory,
Tel:- +2347010782314
Private Email Contact:
Contact Person:- Mr.Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (Governor) CBN.

You are advised to contact the Governor with your details as stated below:
You’re Name……………
Phone Number……………
Unpaid Amount……………
Finally, if you need more confidence/informations on this payment, don’t hesitate to call us. TELEPHONE: (908) 355-9969

Best Regard,
James B. Comey
Director Federal Bureau Of Investigation (FBI)
N/B: Treat The Above Notification Highly Crucial!

Then there was this brief gem from “Western Union Office®” that noted this in its entirety:

The sum of Three Hundred Thousand Dollars USD has been deposited here in WESTERN UNION OFFICE by the United Nations Organization.Kindly contact us for more informations.
Contact Email: 

Mr.Jack Brown
Customer Service
Western Union Office®

Another good one had this header: Can You Get this Done?

Dear Friend,

   My Name is Dr. Miss Melissa Ali Abdul I got you esteemed contact during my comprehensive research for a reliable and trustworthy individual in your country.  I will need your help in this situation I find myself.

Load of crapI am, really afraid and don’t know whom to confide in. I am a medical doctor working with NATO currently in Syria. I am a Citizen of Libya, and I made some money during Gaddafi’s regime.
I have kept it as secret for a little while and I need someone I can trust to work and transfer this money out of Syria as a Medical documents. Please I will need your help on this as I can forfeit 20 per cent of this money to make sure it is safely used for me, until I leave the army next year… I will be revealing the said amount immediately you give me your word of confidence to go ahead for this is a very huge amount of money.
Expecting your reply soonest for time is not on my side,
Best Regards
Dr. Miss Melissa Ali Abdul

One of the best was from a Mr. Philip Palmer, which stated:

Good day,

I work with a Diplomatic Corp that holds special and valuable consignments for reputable clients that are honest and trustworthy.scammer We work in collaboration with top firms all over the world as we have earned a name as a service whose hallmarks in reliability and confidentiality are revered. International missions, Diplomats, Embassies of the world have used our services to satisfaction. A benefactor has mandated me to get someone that can assist her and her family in retrieving her package containing some amount of money from a Diplomatic Corp. The benefactor and her children have been confined only to their country home and all their calls and movements are monitored, as a result,its absolutely impossible for them to do anything as regards retrieving the money. Their only means of communication is via internet and you are being contacted because your assistance is needed in claiming the funds on their behalf. The amount was accrued from Diamond sales over a period of six years and it is USD35M (Thirty-Five Million)
These funds are fully free of any liens, or encumbrances and are clean, clear and has no criminal origin. The funds have nothing to do with any form of illegality and all documentation needed to prove the source of the funds were submitted when the funds were being deposited and these documents would prove the source of the funds and authenticate the fact that the funds are clean and has no links whatsoever with either drugs or terrorism. For your assistance in this transaction,the benefactor and her Children have agreed to give you 30% of the total amount of money which is equivalent to (Ten Million, Five  Hundrend Thousand United States Dollars) and this role simply entails retrieving the funds on their behalf from the Diplomat in USA and all the information needed to claim the funds would be sent to you as soon as you indicate your interest in assisting them as well as providing the following information to facilitate the smooth conclusion of the transaction.

1) Your Full Name and Age: ___________________________
2) Your Address and Occupation:_______________________________
3) Your Telephone Number:________________________
4) Your Fax Number: __________________________
5) Your Mobile Number:_____________________________
6) The Name of the Closest Airport to your City of Residence:______

I await your response Urgently.
With trust,
Mr. Philip Palmer.

Most of these so far have been funny or pitiful, depending on your point of view, and are based on the well-documented Advance Fee Scams, also known as 419 Scams. But finally there was this deplorable message from an parasitic individual by the name of one Bojing wang. It had a Malaysian email address which appeared in Project Honey Pot, the web based network which uses software embedded in web sites to collect information about IP addresses used when harvesting email addresses for spam or other similar purposes such as bulk mailing and e-mail fraud:

Urgent E-mail….Please Respond Immediately.

Good Day

I must first tender an apology for this unsolicited mail to you. I am conscious that this is certainly not a proper manner of approach to foster a relationship of trust but because of the circumstances and urgency surrounding this venture I decided to reach you via this medium to join me put claims on this fund before it is seized or confiscated by the authorities. A Business Magnate who lived in China for Nineteen years but died with family during the TYPHOON HAIYAN attack that happened in the PHILIPPINES On Friday the 8th of November 2013 . See links below.

Do not be amazed by this letter, I am contacting you based on Trust and confidentiality that is attached to this transaction.
Before the catastrophe; This business man deposited the sum of $18.4M (EIGHTEEN MILLION, FOUR HUNDRED THOUSAND US DOLLARS) with our bank and as the Auditor General of the Bank, the Board of Directors mandated me to present a member of the family (heir/inheritor) to make claims or the funds will be confiscated and taken to the Bureau as unclaimed. I was given an ultimatum to look for a relative to come for the claim or have the funds liquidated by the Chinese Government and made unserviceable in accordance with existing Chinese law.
After preliminary efforts of search for a direct family member which came to no avail, I decided to contact you. My suggestion is that I will like to present you as the beneficiary to this fund, I know you may not be anyway related to my late client but there is a possibility that the fund will be released to you. I guarantee that if you are willing and interested, I will put all in place in accordance with the Law to legally present you as the Next of Kin and true beneficiary.
scam alertThis transaction is 100% risk free as I have worked all out to complete the operation effectively. Once this fund is released to you, it will be shared in the ratio of 40% for you, and 60% for me as our benefit. Each ($7.4 Million for you) and ($11.04 Million for me). Please endeavor to get back to me whether you are willing to collaborate with me or not so that I can further my search for another partner.

I wait for your prompt response.
Kindest Regards,
Bojing wang

Should note that any of these that I viewed was done with a incognito browser session, so that pages viewed won’t appear in your browser history or search history, and they won’t leave other traces, like cookies, on your computer after you close all open incognito windows. But be aware that going incognito doesn’t affect the behavior of other people, servers, or software, and you should be wary of sites that collect or share information about you, or Internet service providers or employers that track the pages you visit. If you use Google Chrome, there is more info here.

In any case, check your spam or junk email folder occasionally. My personal Gmail settings note that messages that have been in Spam more than 30 days will be automatically deleted, and there were +250 there when last checked and then cleaned out.

Checking it was informative but also good to see Google’s classic message:  Hooray, no spam here!


February 26, 2012

Cold-call Scammers… they’re at it again

Filed under: 'Net Scams,Verbivore — jargontalk @ 7:27 am

Sometimes even the best anti-virus and anti-spam solutions don’t help.

It happened a few days ago, in the early afternoon. Who is this A friend and I were both working on separate computers in different rooms, each busy trying to get our work done.  The phone rang and I was oblivious to it, as I usually only answer my own cell phone.

I was barely aware of what was going on as I had a deadline to meet on a product review, and continued my work.  My friend came into the room carrying her cordless phone with a puzzled look on her face.  She asked me to take the call as she couldn’t understand what the party on the other end was saying.  I asked who was on the line and she told me that the person on the phone was calling from India and had told her, “You’re in front of your computer and we’re getting error messages.”

Scumbag Cold-callerThis had baffled her and she asked who it was.  He replied with a name that she couldn’t understand, said that he “worked for Microsoft” and repeated that she was in front of her computer and that they were “getting error messages.”

When she asked him how he could see what was on her computer, he replied, “We can see all the computers in the world.”

That’s when she decided to let me deal with him.  It was unnerving in that she doesn’t have a Webcam, and then after a couple seconds of brief conversation, I took the call, and asked to whom I was speaking.  He fumbled, answered in some unintelligible fashion and finally the third time I got it: his name was “Handel Baker”… or so he claimed.  From his accent it was clear that he was not from Louisiana or from the Bronx.  He then ordered me to go to the computer and told me that the computer was getting error messages and that they were seeing them. 

I asked him who he worked for, and Handel Baker replied, stumbling with his words as if reading from a script, “I work for Microsoft.  We are a Microsoft Solution Provider.  I am a Microsoft Certified Professional.  Go look at your computer screen and I help you with your errors.  Maybe you have a virus.”

I replied, “I’m on a Mac, not on a PC.”

Phone scammerI didn’t tell him that my friend was on a Windows PC and that it was behind a pretty heavy firewall on a secure network, but he seemed confused.  I further stated, “I’m using a MacBook Pro, and there is nothing strange on my screen.”

Poor Handel Baker was very confused now, and was getting irritated, and his already-poor English skills were rapidly breaking down as he tried to respond.  I interrupted and again asked him who he worked for, who was his employer, and he replied something to the effect of “PC Outpour” or “PC Output”… maybe it was “PC Outhouse” for all that I could understand.  I asked where his company was located.  He replied, “We in California… California.  Look at your screen!”

SCAM AlertHe was obviously getting upset, as he was not even responding in understandable English at this point.  Repeatedly I asked him to slow down and talk so that I could understand him, and again I asked him the name of his company.  I couldn’t even begin to understand his broken response, so I asked to speak to his supervisor.  This really upset him, and I had to repeat my request four or five times… and finally I got through to him.  He said, “You wait. I get my supervisor.”

There was a pause as he put me on hold, then I waited.  After about a minute, all I heard was the dial tone.  Handel Baker had hung up.

I could have left it with that, but my security-conscious side had been roused, so I immediately checked the phone number on the phone handset, and it came up as 855-791-1191.  Did a quick Google search on that number and it came up with quite a few results, actually thousands of them, and this is just one of them.  There were many more, such as this one where the same phone number is mentioned, along with a company name in one case.  It was amazing how many others had gone through similar events with calls from this number, and not just in the U.S.

PC OutHouse bannerIt didn’t take long perusing these messages, such as the detailed one here to discover that the phone number matched one particular company, PC Output, with support starting at $169.99 per year as of this writing. Further, checking their About Us page and found that PC Output is owned by Innate Global Solutions, which is located in Kolkata, the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal, and known to many as Calcutta, where they have other business. That’s a long way from California.

And as far as Handel Baker being a “Microsoft Certified Professional” there is no indication on their site that they have any of these on their staff.  Microsoft has issued an advisory about scams that use the Microsoft name fraudulently.

The first call of defense against scammers such as this outfit is to get your phone registered on the National Do Not Call Registry. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launched the National Do Not Call Registry to give Americans a choice about getting telemarketing calls at home. FTC Fines are now $16,000.00 per violation, which is enough to make some of these scammers think twice.

India Call CenterThis isn’t a new phenomenon, and it’s not just confined to the US, either. In July 2012, The Guardian (UK) wrote an in-depth article about these calls from India, with the same scenario mentioned above, and there were quite a number of reader comments on this issue. A Canadian blogger wrote of a call that went, "Sir, we have reason to believe that your computer has been hacked," explaining his experience with a cold-call from India. This virus scam has grown to epidemic proportions in Canada, now accounting for over 70% of frauds reported daily to the Canadian Anti Fraud Centre (CAFC), and causing them to post this alert and remedy.

In the US, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) is a co-sponsored by the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), and if you’re a victim, complaints may be filed here. Complaints filed at their website are processed and may be referred to federal, state, local or international law enforcement agencies. And sometimes there are winners in these complaints, as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) does go after them, and won a judgment of more than $8 million against one of these scareware scammers that was operating under a variety of names.  In this case, 300,000 of those who were stung in this scam are getting refunds. And it looks like the FTC is cracking down hard on some of the other Indian call centers as well.

One a related topic, it’s been reported that India has emerged as the world’s top source of junk mail as spammers make use of lax laws and absent enforcement to turn the country into a center of unsolicited email.  As it was reported, an average of 79.8 percent of email traffic in the three months to the end of September was junk, and of that, 14.8 percent originated in India, 10.6 percent came from Indonesia, and 9.7 percent from Brazil.  Some of these figures vary, as can be seen here, but India’s call centers are in the lead.  Spammers run the gamut from legitimate marketing firms and advertisers who have adapted telephone cold-calling techniques to the computer age to "phishers", who solicit personal data from naive recipients to defraud them, as previously described in my first hand experience.

So what can you do? 

load-o-crapMicrosoft advises that you should just hang up on phone scams such as this. One could also respond with a carefully directed (in)appropriate phrase in the Bengali or Indian languages.  It might make you feel better, but then they’re likely to respond equally in English. 

When it comes to dealing with scumbags and scammers like this, remember to put your brain in motion before putting your mouth in gear or your fingers in motion on the keyboard.  As always, good old fashioned common sense is your best defense.


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