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What to do about an avalanche of scams

A Farmington man has won $57,252,000 in one week. At least, he would have if the prizes were not all from scammers.

“John,” who asked that his real name not be mentioned, received 34 different e-mails that week. Each had a different message, but they all promised the same thing: Free money for the taking.

One encouraged John to be patient, because the $2.5 million sent him had bounced back from the wrong address. “Courage, my dear…” the letter began. “…I thank God that it return back safely…For the purpose of clarification, It is advice that the entire fee has been paid for your delivery so it’s probably $185 dollar that remains that you will sent to their security office for the safe keeping fee of your returning box so far. don’t be misconceived by anybody, and be advised to reconfirm.”

 Close to a dozen different e-mails involved money from the Republic of Benin in Africa. Some offered business or investment opportunities, while others informed John he was an heir.

The number of e-mails was not unusual for him to receive, John said. In fact, it is not all that unusual for many Internet users across the country. For example, the Internet Crime Complaint Center received 206,884 complaints in 2007, which led to a reported dollar loss of nearly $240 million, an all-time high.

So what’s an e-mailer to do?

Dave Sill and Stephanie Rosskopf of, one of the providers in the area, have some ideas for their Parkland Internet service customers and others plagued by scammers and other spam.

• Use a spam filter. Most virus protection programs include some type of filter.

• Never click on a link or reply to spam mailings, even to unsubscribe.

• Choose a unique e-mail address.

• Only give your primary e-mail address to friends and family.

• Use a secondary e-mail for online purchases or registrations.

• Heighten the security level of your spam filter to a friends-only setting.

Internet providers use spam filtering programs, but it is difficult to keep up with the scammers who know how to get around them, Rosskopf said.

“There’s always ways someone who is phishing out there can get around (filters),” she explained. “This is a human versus human fight. The spammers are always changing and adapting, which makes it harder.”

Sill has dealt with spam problems for years. He explained that spam filters are programmed to look for patterns and form letters. Scammers realize that and find ways to “randomize” their missives to get around the filters.

“The reason you get a lot of the 419 scams (from the Nigerian country code 419) is because they don’t appear to be a form letter to automated systems,” Sill said. “To human eyes, it seems obvious it’s a scam, but to computers, it looks like a legitimate e-mail.”

Older filters typically checked for message “fingerprints” that identify them as spam. These look at the first 100 characters to see if the wording matches that in e-mails that have been complained about by Internet customers. The filter keeps out those messages. However, changes in the first 100 characters can fool the filter into thinking the e-mail is legitimate.

URL filtering aims at e-mails that have a link for you to download, such as the scams claiming to be messages from banks or credit cards that ask you to click on a link to access your account. Instead, the link goes to a copycat site used to get personal information. This type of filter also targets e-mails that claim to sell a product and ask victims to click on a link.

“Those are a little harder to randomize, so we can look for URL messages from the same place, Sill related. “But that’s becoming a little more tricky to catch.”

Nowadays, spam often is run by organized criminals. One of their tricks involves sending you “junk” mail with a link to unsubscribe.

Click on the link and you really are just letting the scammer know that he or she has found a viable e-mail address. Scammers can sell lists of addresses for higher prices when they know the addresses are viable, Sill said.

If the message is from a reputable company and you expected to receive it, you most likely can unsubscribe without a problem. If you don’t recognize the source of the e-mail, don’t unsubscribe, forward the e-mail to the Federal Trade Commission at, Rosskopf said.

Notify your Internet provider of spam as well. Although that is not a guarantee that the spam will stop, it can help.

Sill and Rosskopf pointed out that education is a key to shutting down scammers. The fewer victims they trick, the less money they get and the less attractive a business it is to criminals.

 “These people can afford to send out millions and millions of these messages,”  Sill said. “It only takes one or two people to fall for it to be lucrative for the scammers.”

The Daily Journal has made a commitment to keep readers abreast of scams that hit our area. If someone tries to make you the victim of a scam, call us at 431-2010 and tell us what happened. We will include your story in our scam alert series to prepare others who may find themselves in the same situation. The Daily Journal will run Scam Alert stories in the paper every Saturday.

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