August 31, 2009, 12:39 PM — I love Dr. Gregory House. As a journalist, I can really appreciate his view that "Everybody lies." That may be too cynical for most people, but when it comes to dealing with your e-mail I'm not sure it's possible to be cynical enough.
Every day, and I mean every day, I get not only spam messages, but notes trying to trick me into going to a site that will infect my Windows PC with malware or con me into giving up my bank account or credit-card numbers. You simply can't trust anything you find in your e-mail box.
Here are some of the most common scams. Many of you might think, "How could anyone fall for these?" The sad truth is that people fall for them every day. That's why thieves use them. If you already know them, think about your friends and relatives who aren't as smart as you are and send the URL to this story to them. You might save them a lot of money or, at the least, a busted computer.
1) Money for Nothing. To knock off the obvious first, no one is going to send you a million dollars. Sorry, it's not going to happen. And, if by some weird chance, an unknown relative does die and leave you some cash, they're not going to let you know about it by an e-mail.
On a personal note, my dad really is dying of esophageal cancer, and I'm getting sick and tired of fraudsters trying to steal money by using this particular ailment. Oh, and by the way, if he did have a million dollars, he'd be spending it on medical care.
2) Phishing. Who hasn't got a message that purports to be from your bank or credit-card company saying that-Oh No!--something has happened to your account and that you have to login at the Web address below to set things right.
Oh yeah, sure it has. First, if something does go wrong with yo ur online financial account, chances are they're not going to let you know about it. For example, after Albert Gonzalez, swiped millions from TJX and Heartland Payment Systems, the 130-million credit card users who had their information stolen found out about it the old-fashioned way: by postal mail.
Never, and I mean never, respond to any e-mail telling you that one of your account is in trouble and that you need to login to the supplied link in the message. The chances are 99.9999% you're being set-up to be robbed.
3) Spear-phishing. Phishing, rhymes with fishing, is pretty easy to spot once you know what you're looking for. Spear-phishing attacks, in which the messages look like they're coming from a friend or it sounds like the writer actually knows something about you, are harder to spot. In the first place, they may appear harmless.