We are fooled by spam – we really are

I had a legitimate request to re-enter some credit card details the other day and still I hesitated. We are so used to these so-called phishing spam scams. So many of the details were legit – it was for an online backup service that I do use, that was the name of the machine that backs up to it, that was the right renewal date and the expired credit card number was correct – that I didn’t just chuck the email away. But I also didn’t click on it: I separately went to the online backup company’s website, logged in there and checked the details.

But apparently that’s unusual. And so unusual that I can’t brag about it: the odds are that I’ve been fooled by scams before and will again. Seriously. You get these stupid spam messages and you wonder how anyone can be taken in by them. Intellectually you realise they must be because the spam keeps coming, it must be worth the spammers’ time, but you will be head-jerk-backed shocked at how effective those emails are at getting people’s details out of them:

Even on the worst-performing phishing websites, 3 percent of users still submitted their data. On the most effective phishing sites, as many as 45 percent did.

Google notes in its write-up that this is big business for scammers, as one attacker can be responsible for millions of phishing emails.

Once a hacker is able to access someone’s account, they spend an average of three minutes figuring out how much it’s worth, and will apparently move on if the account doesn’t seem valuable enough. According to the study, hackers use Gmail’s own search function to figure out if an account is worth their time, looking for terms like “wire transfer” and “bank.”

What happens next probably won’t surprise you: The hacker tries try to get money from an account’s contact list. They send emails to the person’s friends, family and colleagues with fake stories like “we were mugged last night in an alley” in the hopes of getting them to send cash.

Google Study Finds Email Scams Are More Effective Than You’d Expect – Damon Beres, Huffington Post (7 November 2014)

Read the full piece for more details and some advice about stopping being scammed. Mind you, if you’re reading this and you also click through to read that, you’re probably more aware of the issue than most people. And being aware is a key protection.

Important: new Facebook hack

If it happens to you, this is how it goes. You get a friend request from someone you know – they may even be Facebook friends with you already – and when you accept it, you get a message asking how you are. If you reply to that, you’re now into a long conversation that says it’s about the CFDA. Reportedly that’s the Something Federal Domestic Assistance that offers grants and your friend says they saw your name on a list of people who are being awarded them.

I’ve never heard of this lot but I am applying for various grants to do certain projects and, I’ll put my hand up, I was fooled.

What happens next is that your pal says it’s best if they send you a Facebook link to someone else. I don’t want to name the one I was sent in case that’s another unfortunate soul being used, but when you click to send that person a friend request, they accept and suddenly you’re in a conversation with them too.

That’s where I got out.

Call me slow.

Especially as my friend is a poet and her messages were full of mistakes. I did just reckon she was in a hurry, but still, there are standards and she wouldn’t write like that.

So I’m slow and thick but watch out for it happening to you, okay? I don’t know where the story would’ve ended going but I don’t think the odds are high that we’d like it.

Gmail adds nice Unsubscribe feature

Well, you’ve always been able to unsubscribe from advertising emails but Google is making it easier: if the email has a wee little unsubscribe link hidden at the bottom, Gmail will pop an unsubscribe link right up at the top where you can see it.

Two things to note. First, this is rolling out across Gmail but Gmail is big so this will take time and you may not see it just yet. But hold on, it’s coming.

Second – and trickier – think twice about unsubscribing. You know how you don’t always remember when you signed up to receive something? Occasionally you didn’t and it’s spam. In which case, hitting Unsubscribe sends a message – literally – to the spammer telling them that this is a real email account with a real human being reading it. No chance they’ll go “oh, okay, let’s take ’em off the spam list”.

Previously if I’ve had any doubt I’ve marked the emails as junk and let Mail (I use Apple’s Mail) deal with it. There is a wee problem with that: if the email is not junk, the fact that you junked it gets reported back to whichever company is delivering the emails. If enough people junk the emails, the sender is blocked. You can bet that spammers have ways around that so the only ones who suffer are legitimate companies that you really did sign up to receive emails from.

If you’re struggling with a huge amount of email newsletters and the like, take a look at Unroll.me. When you let it, Unroll.me scans your emails and gives you a list of everything that you can unsubscribe from – and lets you do that with a click. I’ve not used it myself but it comes recommended.

Dial 6 for Murder (and other phone tips)

The downside of having our phones with us all the time is that we have our phones with us all the time. We end up getting calls we don’t want and there are times when we either have to make calls we’d prefer not to – or we are obliged to give out our number. You can’t stop all that but you can make it less of a problem.

Next time you get Unknown Caller and it is another sales call, do whatever you normally do and after you’ve got that out of you system, put their number into your system. Take that moment to add it under the name Spam. And the next one who calls, also Spam.

After a while you will build up this contact called Spam with an awful lot of phone numbers. But it’s surprising how often the same spam numbers call you so while this won’t cure all such calls, you will regularly see the name Spam as Caller ID and can just tap the decline button.

As for making calls, get a burner phone. You’ve seen this in movies: the baddies and/or the goodies who are falsely accused of being baddies and are on the run, they all get burner phones. They’re just another mobile phone that you buy anonymously and you only use for a specific job before throwing them away or planting them on your enemy.

Cheaper and handier than buying new phones all the time, you can just buy an app. Burner is a free iPhone app that gives your phone a new, temporary number. You only get a very limited-use number for free but you can buy new temp ones and delete the old ‘uns at any time.

If you’re thinking that you simply can’t remember the last time you were on the lamb, pursued by the police forces of Illinois and needing to run some interference for the mob, you can also use Burner for eBay. Craigslist, eBay, anything where you need to give out your number to someone but, seriously, you don’t want them phoning you for the next ten years trying to be your buddy.

I don’t get that a lot. But most every woman I know does. For them – or at least for women in the US – here’s my favourite phone trick that will surely, hopefully come to the UK too:

The experience is all-too familiar for many women. An overly aggressive suitor asks for your number. You feel uncomfortable or unsafe, manipulated or just want to end the interaction. Sometimes, it feels easier to hand over your digits than to reject the person outright; but you don’t want to field unwanted text messages or phone calls.

Been there? Over it? Go ahead and memorize this number: (669) 221-6251.

That’s the hotline for the new Feminist Phone Intervention, which automatically replies to calls or text messages from unwelcome admirers with an automatically-generated quote by renowned feminist writer, theorist and professor, bell hooks.

As the anonymous saviors behind the hotline write on Tumblr, “Why give any old fake number, when you can have bell hooks screen your calls?”

This Feminist Hotline Replies To Your ‘Unwanted Suitors’ With A bell hooks Quote – Huffington Post (13 June 2014)

I’m afraid I hadn’t heard of bell hooks. In following that link through to Feminist Phone Intervention, I didn’t learn a lot more but it was a lot more sobering. This is that site’s explanation for why its makers set up the service:

because we’re raised to know it’s safer to give a fake phone number than to directly reject an aggressive guy.
because we’re raised to know that evasion or rejection can be met with violence.
because women are still threatened and punished for rejecting advances.
because (669) UGH-ASIF, WTF-DUDE, and MAJR-SHADE were taken.
because why give any old fake number, when you can have bell hooks screen your calls?
so next time, just give out this number: (669) 221-6251
tech to protect.

Feminist Phone Intervention website

Not a great world, is it?