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Consumer Advisory Bulletin-August 2006

Beware of "Spam" Scams

How to reduce unwanted junk e-mail -- and avoid on-line scams.

At best, "spam" annoys people and wastes their time. At worst, spam brings nasty scams that deceive people, steal their identity, and cheat them out of thousands of dollars. Con-artists use deceptive e-mail because it's a quick and cheap way for them to reach thousands or even millions of people, and it's hard to trace spam back to the senders.

Here are some tips on how to reduce, reject, and report deceptive spam.

REDUCE junk e-mail spam:

  • Limit circulation of your e-mail address. Spammers "harvest" e-mail addresses from chat rooms, newsgroups, web pages - just about anywhere they can find them or buy them. Try to avoid displaying your address in chat rooms (consider using a screen name that is not associated with your email address.) Check a website's privacy policy before providing your address - and opt out of plans where they may sell your address. Consider creating a very unique e-mail address (with both numbers and letters) that is less likely to be found by spammers doing "dictionary attacks" on common names. Consider using two email accounts (one for public use). Use an e-mail filter to screen out potential spam or channel it to a bulk e-mail folder. (See the web links below for more details on all these suggestions.)

REJECT deceptive spam scams:

  • "Phishing" e-mails pretend to be from banks, credit card companies, E-Bay, etc. -- even the IRS. They look real, but they are bogus. The e-mail urges you to click to a phony web site -- and submit your credit card or bank account number, or social security number. Avoid identity theft: keep your personal information to yourself.
  • Phony "lotteries" or other prize schemes claim you've "won" - but soon ask you to send money to them. These international scams are extremely common now.
  • Questionable solicitations constantly arrive by e-mail - for bogus weight-loss products, get-rich-quick schemes, "credit-repair" scams, prescription drugs, counterfeit check scams, "medical miracle" products, debt-relief scams, etc.

REPORT deceptive and unwanted spam:

  • Send the full spam message to the Federal Trade Commission at spam@uce.gov. ("UCE" stands for "unsolicited commercial e-mail.) The FTC uses e-mail in this data-base to pursue its law enforcement actions. Send the full 'header' on the e-mail so it can be traced. You also can send spam to your own Internet Service Provider's "abuse desk," and to the spammer's ISP.

Do your HOMEWORK: For more details on all these tips, go to the Federal Trade Commission's site: www.ftc.gov/spam. (Click on "for consumers.") Another excellent source for tips is www.onguardonline.gov/spam.

To file a complaint, write to the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division, Des Moines, Iowa 50319. Call 515-281-5926 or 888-777-4590 (toll-free.) The web site is www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.org.

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