The Actrix Online Informer is published each month to help keep
Actrix customers up-to-date with what's happening on the Internet, and to
help ensure they have every opportunity to benefit from it.
Welcome to the July 2008 Actrix Online Informer!
Welcome to the July Actrix Online Informer. This month we start a series of articles on scams. The Actrix virus filters are probably catching most of the bait emails scammers are sending out, but a few always manage to make it through. As well as looking at specific scams, we'll also cover some of the reasons people fall for them and what to be on the lookout for. There's also the usual collection of interesting sites, quotes, news items and more. It's good to see regular use of the Forum as well. Please feel free to write in with questions, but do try to limit these to Internet related matters. We've had a few general computing questions lately. If we can help quickly, we might, but these are better sent to someone with general computing expertise.
Read on and enjoy!
The Internet can be a scary place if you're not careful. it's not just viruses and spyware. The truth is there are also real people out there who may try and take advantage of you in a more personal way. Just like the real world, the Internet has its share of baddies out to steal your cash (not to mention your pride) by combining new technology with age-old confidence tricks.
Being conned online actually isn't all that common, but it does happen, and it does happen here in New Zealand. How much may be a little uncertain as a lot of it goes unreported because people are embarrassed and don't want others to know they've been silly enough to have been conned. However, most people who are conned aren't really all that silly. Sometimes they're at a low point in their lives, or desperate in some way, and when someone offers them something, their judgement becomes clouded in a way it might not have otherwise. Sometimes people are just too trusting or too good natured. But vulnerable, trusting good natured people have been the con-man's targets since Adam wore short trousers.
The net is no different. Over the next few Actrix Online Informers, we'll have a look at some scams old and new.
The 419 scam is my favourite. It's been around a long time and the perpetrators just keep churning them out with endless variations. Originally, most of these scams were sent from within Nigeria, and a large proportion of them still are. The number "419" refers to the article of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with this type of fraud.
The 419 scam is also known as the "advance fee" fraud – one of the oldest tricks in the book. You're promised something, but have to pay some fees in advance before you can get your windfall. It was originally known centuries ago as the "Spanish prisoner" fraud. Victims were encouraged to hand over money to bribe prison guards so that rich prisoners could be freed in exchange for handsome rewards.
There are a lots of examples of the types of email you might get designed to lure you into this scheme and separate you from your money. You can click here for an example I received recently from "Laarni, a filippino woman with 20 million US dollars she needs to unload".
Other examples might be:
The 419 scam almost always involves tens of millions of dollars. You might be offered the lot, depending on the nature of the lie, or a large share such as 40%. Often thanks are given to God who has led them to you so you can help, and greetings are given in Jesus' name. This is because 419 scammers like to pose as Christians to make themselves more appealing and apparently trustworthy to westerners. Often the person needing help poses as a woman to appeal to a desire some western men might have to be a knight in shining armour rescuing a maiden in distress. She'll usually be single and there may even be a hint of possible romance thrown in to add a little interest. All conmen worth their salt will maximise the potential vulnerabilities to exploit in their victims.
The 419 scammers are usually very well organised. Many have offices with personnel and working phone and fax numbers. If you research the background of the offer you will often find that all pieces fit perfectly together and names of real people are used, often without their knowledge or consent.
If the victim indicates agreement to be part of the deal and accept the loot, the scammers will send one or more false documents bearing official-looking government stamps and seals as well as photographs of themselves to make things more personal and reassure you of their trustworthiness.
But then, of course, some unavoidable delay occurs – some monetary hurdle that prevents the deal from occurring as planned. They may email and say something like "In order to transmit the money, we need to bribe a bank official. Could you help us with a loan?" or "In order for you to be allowed to be a party to the transaction, you need to have holdings at a Nigerian bank of $100,000 or more" or similar. Can you transfer some money over temporarily?"
Of course the idea is that you need to advance them some money first – the advance fee. If you do, there will be more unfortunate delays and more additional costs added, while the promise of an imminent large transfer is kept alive. They'll remind you that the money you are currently paying will be covered many times over by the payoff.
Sometimes psychological pressure is added by claims from the scammers' side. In order to pay certain fees they had to sell all their belongings and borrow money on their house, or they will point out the different salary scale and living conditions in Africa compared to the West. Much of the time, however, the needed psychological comes from the victims themselves; once they have put money in toward the payoff, they feel they have a vested interest in seeing the "deal" through and keep on paying in the hope that this will be the last hurdle.
The essential fact in all advance fee fraud operations, whether online or not, is that the promised money transfer never happens because the money or gold does not exist. The perpetrators rely on the fact that by the time the victim realises this he or she may have sent thousands of dollars of their own money. At which time the scammers simply disappear. That will happen as soon as they decide they've pushed you as far as possible and have gotten all the advance fees from you that they can.
It can get worse. Sometimes victims are invited to the scammer's country to meet real or fake government officials who are assisting with the deal. Some victims who do travel are instead held for ransom, robbed or even killed.
The lottery scam involves fake notices of lottery wins. We've probably all received these. Click here for an example. You've won an overseas lottery! However, in order to release the funds, some small fee (insurance, registration, or shipping) is required. Once the fee has been sent, the scammer will invent another series of fees and attempt to collect them from you for as long as possible.
In The Hitman Scam an e-mail is sent to the victim supposedly from a hitman who has been hired by a "close friend" of the recipient to kill him or her. The good news is the assassin will call off the hit in exchange for a large sum of money. If you're willing to pay enough, he'll even kill your "close friend" instead! This is usually backed up with a warning not to contact the police or the hitman will be forced to go through with the original plan and kill you. Actually, this is less an advance fee fraud and more outright extortion, but I thought I'd include it anyway.
Scam baiting is the practice of pretending to be interested in a fraudulent scheme in order to manipulate a scammer. The purpose of scam baiting might be to waste the scammers' time, embarrass him or her, cause him or her to reveal information which can be passed on to legal authorities, or simply to amuse the baiter.
One thing scam baiters do is request a photo of the scammer in an embarrassing situation in order to "prove" that the scammer is real. I've heard all sorts of stories about how this is achieved. One scam-baiter said, "We tell them that in western countries, sending a photograph with a sign is a symbol of trustworthiness, because a camera does not lie. Some are so greedy they will do anything to restore the confidence of their intended victim, including pose with a fish on their head or have milk poured over them while holding a sign with a silly message." These sorts of photographs are call trophies, and lots of scam baiter websites have online trophy pages full of them.
Another scam baiting technique is to get the scammer to travel long distances, or go to awkward lengths to pick up some fictitious money you say you've sent. Another is to get them to meet you somewhere. Of course you don't turn up, but the place they come to is in full view of a web camera.
Scam baiting may be amusing, but we certainly don't recommend it. Good scam baiters know how to hide themselves behind proxy servers so they're not easily found. As we mentioned before, scammers can be violent and even murderous. Google scam baiting if you'd like to find out more, but don't go mess with them yourself.
We recommend deleting their emails and forgetting about them. They don't know anything about you and you haven't been targeted just because you've received one of their emails. They've sent out literally millions of baits in the hopes of catching a small number of lucrative suckers.
Next month: Phishing, spear-phishing and the mule scam.
If you'd like to ask a question or request some help on any Actrix or Internet-related matter. Simply send us an e-mail with the word "Forum" in the subject line. I'll try and get an answer to you by return e-mail, and will also post the answer here for the benefit of others who may have a similar question or problem. By the same token, if you read something here and think you may have something to suggest, please feel more than free. Please also note that questions and answers may also turn up under the Helpful Tips section on the Actrix home page (www.actrix.co.nz).
Graham writes: Recently I was the victim of a person who posed as myself and made an inappropriate listing on an auction site. This person also has posted inappropriate false statements about myself. I know who it is, but sadly the police have stated that this is now a civil matter as they no longer handle these complaints. They suggested I go to my lawyer. This would be very costly to myself. The administration of these sites disabled this person several times but they just reregister under another username. Is there an organisation that will look into this and take action? This I feel could happen to anyone and has many times in the past. Thanks for your suggestions.
Hi Graham, This is not a nice thing to happen, and could potentially be much more serious than just being a 'pain in the neck'. It is, in fact, a potential act of identity theft. There are New Zealand organisations that would be better placed to advise you these sorts of things, as they deal with them every day. My first port of call would be to contact NetSafe, and ask them about your options (firstname.lastname@example.org/0508 638 723). NetSafe's website is at http://netsafe.org.nz/index.php.
In last month's Actrix Online Informer, Paranaputra asked about egg-timer type software he could install so he would never miss deadlines again.
Jeremy has written in with some free software he uses called "Stickies". It's like an electonic post-it note feature that will remind you of stuff, and can work with an alarm. It's made by Zhorn software (love the name) and can be found at http://www.zhornsoftware.co.uk/. It looks like Zhorn do a number of other free applications as well. Thanks Jeremy!
Kathryn writes: Hi there. I have been getting reminder messages from AVG to say it will no longer be free from the end of June and need to update to the next paid version. Before I do, just wanted to check if you still recommend AVG, or is there anything cheaper and just as good - or better? Thanks.
Hi Kathryn, It seems there is some confusion over whether AVG will stop being free when users upgrade to version 8.0. However, it seems the confusion might be based on the pop-up notice being poorly worded. It says that virus definitions for your current version of AVG will no longer be available after 31 May and you will have to upgrade to version 8. But then it seems to imply you can only get the paid for version.
In fact version 8 of AVG is still free an you can upgrade to it here: http://free.grisoft.com/ww.download-avg-anti-virus-free-edition. Not being an AVG user, I haven't been through the upgrade process, but it seems you might want to ignore the pop-up and just go download and install version 8 at this link.Should the time come when you're not able to use AVG anymore, there are a number of free alternatives out there. Avast seems to be the most popular one. It may not have all the bells and whistles AVG has, but it has a pretty good reputation for protection, and its users seem to like it. You can get it at www.avast.com.
Allistair writes: Hi there. Hi Rob, A message comes up asking me how I want to send my email. HTML, Plain Text, or both. What are the pros and cons of each? Regards Allistair
Hi Allistair, The main difference between the two is that choosing HTML for your email means you can add formatting such as different colours, bullet or numbered list points, bold, italics, different fonts, and you can paste in pictures. This can allow you to make your emails more visually attractive, or can make it easier to set out information in understandable ways. You'll find the difference is that if you're composing an HTML email you'll have the toolbars available to play around with formatting. In a plain text email, those tools won't be there.
The disadvantage of HTML email is that it takes up a little more space and the email becomes a larger file to send. The more formatting you add, the bigger it becomes. This could make your email a problem for someone who is struggling with a slow connection. In this day and age, it really doesn't matter much. A little HTML formatting won't add a significant enough amount of file space to make much difference (it will if you start adding pictures, though).
Some people don't like HTML formatting in email and set their email programs to only read and reply to emails in plain text, so if you're sending an email to a purist like that your formatting won't achieve much anyway, but most people don't care one way or the other.
Most Microsoft email programs can be set to compose emails in either plain text, rich text or HTML under Tools/Options/Mail Format. There you can also choose whether you always answer mail in a certain format, whether to reply in HTML to a received HTML email etc. For all intents and purposes, rich text will look and behave the same as HTML. There's no good reason to choose it, though, as it is a Microsoft only format.
Caroline writes: Hello Rob, Is there any way I can set my Actrix email to block mail from a specific sender? I am getting sent lots of huge spam files, all from the same address, that take ages to download. thanks, Caroline
Hi Caroline, Yes, there is, though you will probably find the spammers change to a different address to hound you from anyway. I've included some instructions on how to use Message Rules on Outlook Express. If you’re using another email program, let me know.
To create Message Rules in Outlook Express:
Be very careful though, as anything deleted using this method will not be retrievable.
(Click the picture links to access the sites)
Please note: Actrix supplies links to these sites for your interest and possible use. We cannot endorse or take any responsibility for their contents.
Got a site you think would be neat to share with other readers?
Click here to e-mail and let me know!
Baby names and stuff
www.baby-names-and-stuff.com/ – This site has a comprehensive selection of baby names (over 45,000) with a description of their meaning, gender, and origin. They're arranged in categories, but there's also a handy search feature. Lots of other baby or parenting information is also available via the site including: advice on parenting and pregnancy, adoption, child abuse, toys and more.
Conceptis logic puzzles
www.conceptispuzzles.com – Conceptis offers non-stop fun with the world's best logic puzzles, all for free. Picture and number based puzzles are included to challenge all three sides of your brain. On average, ten million Conceptis puzzles are printed in newspapers, magazines and books each day, while millions more are played online and on mobile phones each month.
Photo tampering throughout history|
http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=photo-tampering-throughout-history – "Photography lost its innocence not long after it was born. As early as the 1860s photos were already being manipulated – only a few decades after Joseph Nicéphore Niépce created the first photograph in 1826. With the advent of high-resolution digital cameras, powerful personal computers and sophisticated photo-editing software, the manipulation of digital images has proliferated. Here [are] collected some examples of tampering throughout photography's over 180-year history."
Twenty funniest newspaper headlines ever|
www.oddee.com/item_96156.aspx – Not sure what I can add by way of description. Funny headlines are pretty common, but these are really quite funny, and I hadn't seen many of them before.
www.epicurious.com/tools/fooddictionary – This section of the Epicurious website (for people who love to eat) presents a searchable dictionary of words, phrases and terms related to food and cooking. You can enter any word or phrase, or browse topics alphabetically. If you're interested enough to follow that link, you'll probably want to click the Epicurious logo in the banner at the top of the page to visit the main website.
Body and mind surveys and tests|
www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/mind/index_surveys.shtml – Here are a whole lot of tests from the BBC website you can complete to find out about yourself and how your mind works. Do you have a male or female brain? What makes you squirm and say "yuck"? What style of work suits your personality? Can scientists predict your childhood decade from the smells you find nostalgic? These and many more!
www.checklists.com/ – What if you had a checklist for anything that might come your way in life? "Checklists.com provides easy-to-use checklists to help you take care of things so you can relax, enjoy life, live better and longer, be safe and successful, and, help save the earth. Most checklists contain great links to other useful sites."
Professor Schpinkee's Greenhouse Calculator|
http://www.abc.net.au/science/planetslayer/greenhouse_calc.htm – Pete writes: "Got an interesting site you might want to put in the next Actrix Online Informer. It's supposed to be for kids but it says things like "see how much you suck", "find out when you should die" and "we made up the questions while floating on inflatable mattresses and drinking daiquiris" (I'm not sure many kids would know what a daiquiri is)... I think it's supposed to be funny but it just seems weird!" Thanks Pete. I couldn't have described it any better!
The 20 worst foods in America|
www.menshealth.com/eatthis/20-Worst-Foods/ – "To... enlighten you on the prevalence of preposterous portions, we spent months analyzing menus, nutrition labels, and ingredient lists to identify the food industry's worst offenders. Our primary criterion? Sheer caloric impact. After all, it's the top cause of weight gain and the health problems that accompany it." It's interesting that America's worst food of all is available at an Outback Australia styled restaurant, especially now that Australia has been named the fattest nation per capita, ahead of the USA.
21 ways to shoot better photographs|
http://www.10e20.com/blog/2007/07/27/21-ways-to-shoot-better-photographs/ – "Do you want to sharpen your creative picture taking instincts? Do you want to combine new ideas with your current projects and techniques? These techniques will be better executed with digital cameras and meant as some direction or guidelines to taking 'better' pictures. You are your cameras best viewfinder!"
What's been happening in the online world?
Web rage attack prompts warning to TradeMe users: TradeMe users are being warned not to give out their addresses after a buyer drove nearly 40km to assault and threaten a man at his home after a trade went sour. Click here for more.
'Mystery item' goes for $440 on TradeMe: A modern spin on the lucky dip has netted a canny Christchurch student the easiest $440 he ever made. Click here for more.
Pulling on the web for the perfect pint: Three beer lovers are hoping the pulling power of the internet will lead them to the perfect pint - Danis Roberts, 24, Dan Phillips, 29, and Tim Tregonning, 24, have used social networking sites to recruit 400 thirsty Kiwis for their "Our Brew" experiment. Click here for more.
Identity theft on the rise: Nine hundred cases of identity fraud uncovered in the past 12 months are just the tip of the iceberg say police intelligence experts, worried at a surge in the crime. Click here for more.
Child rescued after internet probe: Internal Affairs Department censorship inspectors who sparked a two-year probe of an internet paedophile ring have seen a tortured child involved rescued by American police. Click here for more.
Treasury opposed $325m for NZ broadband: Treasury advised against the Government's $325 million Broadband Investment Fund, announced in this year's Budget, warning at least half the money would be frittered away on "increasingly marginal projects". Click here for more.
Internet turns Scottish clans into global tribe: When the ancient system of Scottish tribes risked fading away two decades ago the 30th chief of the Carmichael clan turned to the Mormon Church. Click here for more.
US webscape will shrink to two main players: An internet analyst for a major Wall Street firm argues in a new report that Google and Amazon.com will be long-term winners, while Yahoo and IAC InterActiveCorp fall by the wayside and eBay becomes a merger target. Click here for more.
Homeless man pulls off 'millionaire' web dating scam...13 times: A homeless man accused of duping 13 women by posing as a millionaire on an internet dating service was arraigned in Philadelphia today. Click here for more.
Spam convict tries to overturn junk mail law: A lawyer for a man once considered one of the world's most prolific email spammers has urged the Virginia Supreme Court to strike down a state anti-spam law, arguing it violates free speech protections under the US constitution. Click here for more.
Google lets users measure the power of words: Number-crunchers can rejoice as Google Inc offers deeper access to the underlying figures for users' Web searches, giving some insight into trends based on the relative popularity of various words. Click here for more.
Jail sentence for botnet creator: A hacker who hijacked hundreds of PCs to create a botnet has been sentenced to 41 months in jail by a US court. Click here for more.
Bloggers learn to avoid lawsuits: Miami real estate agent Lucas Lechuga began blogging to share his knowledge of the local market. He didn't bargain for a $25 million defamation lawsuit when he wrote that a Miami developer had gone bankrupt decades ago. Click here for more.
One-third of IT workers 'snoops': One in three information technology professionals abuses administrative passwords to access confidential data such as colleagues' salary details, personal emails or board-meeting minutes, according to a survey. Click here for more.
Google founder books space flight: Google co-founder Sergey Brin has made a $5m (£2.5m) down payment to book a seat on a future orbital space flight, a US space tourism company has said. Click here for more.
Three strikes and lose your broadband, online pirates told: Persistent illegal downloaders in France are to have their internet access cut, after a controversial anti-piracy law was endorsed by the French cabinet. Click here for more.
Blogger arrests hit record high: More bloggers than ever face arrest for exposing human rights abuses or criticising governments, says a report. Click here for more.
Can the web predict economic gloom?: A new online prediction tool has just been launched by the University of California to see how the US economic recession has affected people's online behaviour. Click here for more.
Teens charged with loading spyware, changing grades: Two Orange County, California, teenagers have been charged with breaking into high school offices and using stolen usernames and passwords to change lacklustre grades to A's. Click here for more.
'Shake-up' for internet proposed: The net could see its biggest transformation in decades if plans to open up the address system are passed. Click here for more.
Staff internet policies must be Facebook-ready, warns expert: Dealing with staff who misbehave on the web may be hampered by office policies written without Web 2.0 sites in mind, an employment expert has said. The warning follows disciplinary action against 18 police officers who boasted about crashes on Facebook. Click here for more.
Internet eyes possible '.sex' bidding war: The group controlling Internet domain names may soon decide whether to relax naming rules and potentially open up a virtual domain name gold rush. Click here for more.
Online Dating's New Face: Facial recognition technology could help the lovelorn find a better match. Recent advances in facial recognition promise to soon give popular dating sites more features for would-be daters to play with. Click here for more.
Facebook 'violates privacy laws': A Canadian privacy group has filed a complaint against the social networking site Facebook accusing it of violating privacy laws. Click here for more.
'Legit' website compromises reach epidemic proportions: Once upon a time surfers could stay unmolested by malware by staying away from warez and smut. Those days are well and truly over as changes in hacking tactics mean that compromised content on legitimate website has become the main conduit for so-called drive-by download attacks. Click here for more.
Web users 'fear media intrusion': Almost 80% of social networking site users would be more careful about the details they put online if they knew the media might use them, a poll says. Click here for more.
Sci-fi writers: New tech will bring more security challenges: If IT security professionals think they have challenges now, they should wait until new technologies such as quantum computing and devices embedded in skin arrive in the not-so-distant future, say three science-fiction writers. Click here for more.
Cyber playgrounds: It's no wonder parents are confused and troubled about which websites to let their children visit when cyber stalking is almost daily news. Click here for more.
Facebook etiquette – how to ward off unwanted pokes: Should you reject a friend on MySpace? How do you ward off an old lover on Facebook? Have no fear. Britain's etiquette bible has come to the rescue for social networkers who are at a loss about how to behave with online decorum. Click here for more.
Study: Four in Five Business PCs Not Fully Secured: A check by a security firm finds a large number of business computer users aren't bothering with important patches. Click here for more.
Full-feature IE 8 coming in August: Microsoft has said it plans to test-release a feature-complete version of its Internet Explorer 8 Web browser in August. Click here for more.
Yahoo shares climb on talk of Microsoft rethink: Yahoo's steadily sinking stock pulled out of its descent yesterday on reports that the internet pioneer is reconsidering its recent decision to fall into the arms of online search leader Google instead of Microsoft. Click here for more.
Looking Back as Gates' Exit Nears: With a new focus on philanthropy, Microsoft's iconic chairman prepares to leave day-to-day operations at the software colossus he co-founded. Click here for more.
Trojan heralds OS X's 'new phase of exposure to malware': The Mac security scene is heating up, with the discovery in recent weeks of a serious vulnerability in OS X and at least two Trojan horse programs that target the Apple OS. Click here for more.
Firefox 3: now available bug-free, say devs: Mozilla is claiming the second release candidate of Firefox 3.0 is free of bugs. There may be problems with software on the server side or websites but the browser itself has had 10 problems fixed with the second release candidate. Click here for more.
Firefox 3 – triumph or disaster?: The people at Mozilla, the organisation behind the open-source Firefox browser, are punching the air and claiming a world record. They reckon there were 8.3 million downloads of Firefox 3 within 24 hours of the launch, and they've asked the Guinness Book of Records to put them in the book along with all those strange types who hold their breath underwater for 15 minutes or sit in a tub of baked beans for days. Click here for more.
Bored of your life? Buy a new one: When Ian Usher's partner of 12 years left him broken-hearted, he decided the best way to move forward was to auction his whole life, in one job lot. From Sunday, June 22 for one week, Usher's life is up for sale on eBay. Click here for more.
Australian finds vulnerability in his coffee maker: An Australian man has discovered security holes in his internet-connected coffee maker that could allow a remote attacker to not only take over his Windows XP-based PC but also make his coffee too weak. Click here for more.
Each month we dredge through our archives to pull out stories from the Actrix Newsletter of exactly five years ago. Sometimes these stories will show just how much the net has changed in such a short time, and sometimes they'll be included just because they're interesting.
Most bloggers 'are teenage girls' – survey: Over to Poland, where some hard statistics have emerged to help answer the question "are most bloggers teenage girls, or simply middle-aged men who write like teenage girls?" Click here for more.
Spam virus 'hijacks' computers: Spammers are sending out viruses that take over people's computers and turn them into junk mail machines, say experts. It is a worrying new development in the ongoing war against spam and could see a huge rise in the amount of unsolicited messages in inboxes worldwide. Click here for more.
Speeds 6,000 times faster than broadband?: A research team has unveiled a new system to turbocharge the Internet, claiming to be able to achieve speeds so high an entire movie can be downloaded in mere seconds. Click here for more.
Thanks again for reading the Actrix Online Informer. Feedback can be sent to me via the e-mail address listed below. Please limit this to comments/suggestions regarding the newsletter. Non-forum requests for support should go to the Actrix Help Desk (email@example.com) or to the Accounts Department (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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