Scammers and Spammers

By Judith Maginnis Kuster

It was tempting to title this column, "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." In the past, the column has focused on the "good" available on the Internet - ways to connect with colleagues and resources for ourselves and our clients. All 77 past columns are online and with hot links on "Archive of Judith Kuster's Internet Columns ASHA Leader" (www.mnsu.edu/comdis/kuster4/leader.html). Disclaimer: be aware that since URLs change, many links in past articles may no longer function.

There is also much that is "ugly" about the Internet. Troubling internet pornography statistics are available online. (www.nationalcoalition.org/resourcesservices/stat.html). "Mousetrapping" (purchasing expired domain names and turning them into porn sites) has plagued several of our colleagues whose expired domain names have turned into ugly pornographic sites. Downloading infected software or responding to pop-up ads or unsolicited e-mail may insert "malware" (MALicous softWARE) on your computer. Computer viruses can be annoying or wreak havoc. (For information see "Preventing and Dealing with Computer Viruses" - www.unites.org/html/resource/knowledge/02virus.htm). Stalking and problems with pedophiles attempting to contact children have caused Yahoo to shut down its chatrooms.

With limited space, this column will focus on only two of the "bad" parts of the Internet -- scammers and spammers.

Scammers

A scam is a scheme for making money by dishonest means. Anyone with e-mail has received notification of alleged lottery winnings, or bogus pleas to transfer large amounts of money into their bank accounts. Most have also experienced "pfishing" - e-mails and Web sites that appear to be from legitimate banks, credit card companies, or online businesses such as PayPal, Amazon, or eBay, asking us to submit our account numbers because "there is evidence that your account has been breached." Of course, we never respond to such requests which are trying to empty bank accounts or steal credit card numbers and other identifying information.

Recently, a scam surfaced that specifically targets speech-language pathologists. The scammer finds a professional's e-mail address on Web sites that offer professional services or list professional contacts. The scammer's tactic is as follows:

An e-mail is sent describing a person in need of speech therapy, asking for a price quote. If you respond, a second e-mail arrives saying they have sent a certified cashier's check (which looks genuine, but is worthless) to another professional who is charging more than your quote. They claim to have the check forwarded to you, to prepay for therapy, requesting you return the difference.

Or the scammer may send a check directly to you, followed shortly by another e-mail describing a serious family situation that requires them to cancel their planned treatment, requesting an immediate return of their money via Western Union Payment. You have deposited their cashier's check into your personal or business bank account -- but the check-clearing process, which may take several weeks, has not yet revealed that the check is worthless. If the bank has already credited you for the worthless check, you are liable to the bank to repay the amount. Any money you have sent to the scammer cannot be recovered. You have lost that money and will never hear from the scammer again.

Spammers

Spam is an unsolicited often commercial message transmitted through the Internet as a mass mailing to a large number of recipients. Some spam is simply annoying -- for instance when an individual on a discussion forum sets an "out of the office" reply that then gets reposted to every message, to every person subscribed to that mailing list, until the person returns from vacation and resets the reply function.

Other annoying spam occurs when someone on a discussion forum that allows people to subscribe in a "digest" format (which means they receive a single e-mail of all posts to that list once each day), sends an attachment . However, attachments do not transfer to the digest format, and instead arrive as screen after screen of unreadable letters and symbols. Never send an attachment to a discussion forum. Put the information on a Web page or mail the attachment directly to an individual e-mail address.

Some spam makes us look pretty foolish -- we believe a spam hoax and follow the directive to forward the message to everyone we know. Use a hoax warning site, such as Hoaxbusters (http://hoaxbusters.ciac.org/), Vmyths (www.vmyths.com/), Truth or Fiction (www.truthorfiction.com/) or the Snopes search engine for urban legends (www.snopes.com/info/search/search.asp) to check for Internet hoaxes.

Each year I deal with automated spam that advertises inappropriate Web sites and various enhancement drugs on the open threaded discussions attached to papers on the International Stuttering Awareness Day online conferences (archived at www.mnsu.edu/comdis/kuster/isadarchive/onlineconference.html). These same automated spammers often send mass mailings to e-mail addresses they have purchased. Spam filters are only partially effective. The following sites offer valuable suggestions to deal with spam:


Judith Kuster is a professor in the Department of Speech, Hearing, and Rehabilitation Services at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Contact her at judith.kuster@mnsu.edu. All of Kuster's Internet columns are on ASHA's Web site in HTML format with active links (www.asha.org/about/publications/leader-online/archives/news.htm), although URLs change and there is no guarantee that links from previous articles are still functional.

Kuster, JM, Scammers and Spammers, ASHA Leader, September 4, 2007, p. 36-37.