Tag Archives: email

You Owe us A Zillion Dollars!

Yet another in the seemingly endless series of phone or email scams has surfaced – That of the “Phantom Debt Collector.” Just like the other scams that ask you to pay a fine or you’ll be arrested for child porn or some such, these play on sometimes legitimate fears that you may have an unpaid debt somewhere in your past, particularly if you’ve ever applied (even if you didn’t actually get it) a payday loan or similar product.

They often reference some small debt of a few hundred dollars, and sometimes threaten legal action if the debt is not immediately paid. The threats may look something like this; Note the bad grammar.

If you fail to respond us the Charges will be pressed against the name are:

1. Violation of federal banking regulation act 1983 (C)

2. Collateral check fraud

3. Theft by deception (ACC ACT 21A)


Again, like all suspect emails – and phone calls – Ask for details; in other words, demand proof that you owe the money. Ask for an address and phone number. Try calling the company back. Check your credit report at annualcreditreport.com – Any legitimate outstanding debts should show up.

If you know you don’t owe anyone anything, just mark the email “Junk” and don’t click any links or respond. If you have any doubts, don’t click the links either – call the company and ask for documentation.

Why do people do this? Because it works! It’s not too hard to scare people into paying up when the fear of legal action is dangled over their heads.

When I asked alleged phantom debt collector for comment, I was told I owe $935.76.

Phantom debt collector comes after me, again (here’s what those emails look like)

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Gone Phishing!

So, you’ve just gotten an email from eFax saying there is an important fax waiting for you? Not so fast, bub. Something from your bank saying you’re overdrawn and your account is frozen? Hold the phone! The IRS says you owe back taxes?? WHOA!! Don’t touch that mouse!

All of the above are collectively known as “Phishing,” i.e. the sending of fraudulent emails intended to trick you into giving your personal information to some lowlife, who will proceed to make your life miserable.

This is usually done by including a link in the email that will take you to an allegedly legit site, but it’s a fake site that just looks legit. Sometimes, it’s a poisoned attachment instead, but (hopefully!) most of us know by now not to open unsolicited attachments.

Phishing comes in a number of different forms.

  • One common approach, although not the most effective, is the “Dear Bank Customer” ( or Amazon, or Paypal, or any other site) that tells you there is a problem with your account and asks for your passwords or other personal information.
  • Spear Phishing targets a particular individual or company. An attacker can gather enough information about the person or company to increase the success rate. This form of attack is more likely to catch someone than the “Dear Customer” type.
  • Clone Phishing takes a legitimate email and “clones” it, changing only the link to that of a nefarious site instead of the real one.

There are many tricks the Phishers use; for instance, for those of us who actually look at the url address in our browsers (always a good idea!), the address may say


You’d think that this is a section of the “thebank” website, but it’s actually a section of the “badguy” website, and has no relation to the “thebank” website other than name. Look at your address bar now. It starts with https://thegizmologist.wordpress.com. The website is wordpress.com, and the “thegizmologist” is my blog space on wordpress.com. Now if you look at my website: http://thegizmologist.com/html/blog.html, notice the sections of the site are separated by slashes instead of “dots.” There’s the difference. thebank/badguy.com is “the bank’s” website (maybe with an article on how not to get scammed), while thebank.badguy.com is the “bad guy’s” website. What a difference a dot makes!

There are many ways to defend against phishing.

  • The most important, from the standpoint of the end user, is to pay attention. If the grammar is bad, the email is impersonal (Dear PayPal customer), it promises dire consequences if you don’t act Right Now, the sender’s address is strange looking, or anything else makes you the least bit uncomfortable, it’s probably not the real thing. If you’re worried it just might be legit, close your email, and type the company’s web address in your browser rather than clicking a link.
  • If you hover your mouse pointer over a link, the bar at the bottom of your web browser or email program will tell you where the link actually leads. If it looks like it leads somewhere other than where it says it leads, don’t go there! See Clone Phishing.
  • The best thing you can do is label all such as spam and delete immediately. Some email systems allow you to specifically label an email “Phishing.”
  • Any legitimate banking site will have it’s address start with https://, not http://. The extra “s” stands for “secure,” and there will usually also be a “padlock” symbol next to the address. Some shopping sites will only have their cart and checkout sections secure. Never enter any personal information unless you see “https.”
  • Some internet security suites have “anti-phishing” filters built in, which may help.
  • The Web of Trust, which I’ve talked about before, won’t stop the emails, but can be very helpful in identifying bad sites, including known phishing sites.

Finally, phishing is not limited just to email. Those phone calls from “Microsoft Technical Support” are the same sort of thing. There has also been some phishing via snail mail, although those are rare since postage can run into serious money.

For more information:


For even more empowering technology info, read my new book, “Deciphering the 21st Century,” Available now!

Click here to read all about it.

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I’d love to hear your comments!

Emily Post Strikes Back

You’ll get a lot more respect when you blog or post online if you at least learn some of the essentials of clear and concise writing. It’s not just about blogging, either. Your ability to communicate clearly is important  for your job and even your personal life. How’s it going to look if you send a work email that goes something like, “idk, wth, ianal, lol?” “Jetson, You’re Fired!” Avoid this horrible situation by practicing some basic online etiquette.

  • TYPING IN ALL CAPS LIKE THIS IS THE EQUIVALENT OF SHOUTING, AND IT’S ALSO VERY HARD TO READ. If you need to add emphasis, that’s why you have bold and italic options. If it really needs emphasis, there’s always bold AND italic.
  • Forget about visualizing World Peace; Start small and visualize using the Shift key on your keyboard – You know, the one that lets you capitalize sentences so you don’t come across as a 3rd  grade dropout.Something wrong on internet
  • Use your spell checker, and use your head. Learn the difference between lose and loose, there, they’re and their, its and it’s, sail and sale… Please.
  • Don’t use abbreviations like ROTFL or LOL unless you know your recipient will understand you. Even then, don’t use them excessively, and only in casual settings. You and I both know You’re not really Laughing Out Loud during every sentence.
  • It’s probable that nobody really cares what you had for lunch. Don’t overpost. Get outside once in a while.
  • Anything you write on the Internet will be there forever, if someone wants to save, forward, or repost it. Think before you flame.


Ten Rules for safe and polite E-mail

1. Never, open E-mail from someone you don’t know or weren’t expecting E-mail from.

2. Never, NEVER, NEVER (Did I mention Never?), NEVERRR! Open E-mail attachments EVEN FROM PEOPLE YOU DO KNOW unless you were expecting them. The reason: Their computer may have an email-sending virus. Nonsensical subject lines are a dead giveaway.

3. Get an Antivirus program and make sure you keep it updated. There are free ones available that are every bit as good as the overpriced ones. I use AVG Antivirus. You can get the free version Here.

4. If you use Outlook Express or Outlook, disable the preview pane. Some E-mails can execute a virus from the preview. Scan your new E-mails and delete any suspect E-mails BEFORE you start reading them. Consider an alternate eMail program. I use the free program Thunderbird. It has better security and a nicer look than Outlook Express.There are also plenty of free add-ons for customization.

5. The FBI, CIA, NSA, UPS, FedEx, your bank, PayPal, eBay, Microsoft, the Nigerian Lottery Commission, or anybody else will not send you an E-mail asking for your password, credit card number, Social Security number, to wire them money, or to offer you a security update. All such E-mails should be regarded as fakes. Do Not Open Attachments from them either! Reputable companies do not send unsolicited attachments. If you’re not sure whether it’s a fake or not, forward it to spoof@(company it’s supposedly from) and see. Visit the company’s website by typing the address in the address bar, not by clicking any links.

6. You will get junk E-mail (Spam). You can reduce it to manageable proportions by choosing an E-mail provider such as gmail (they have some of the best spam filters on the planet), using your Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) anti-spam settings (Check with your ISP, they vary in this), don’t give your address out to anybody you don’t want E-mail from (sounds silly, but all kinds of places will ask for it!), and if you do any online shopping, consider getting a second, free E-mail address (Yahoo or another, secondary gmail address) for shopping and other stuff. If something gets through the filters, your email provider probably has a way to mark such messages as spam. Do this enough, and your spam will decrease.

7. Never, Never respond to Spam! Reputable merchants you have bought something from will send you promotional E-mails. This is not Spam. You can unsubscribe from reputable E-mails. Look for an unsubscribe link at the bottom. Responding to Spam only makes it worse- Now they know your E-mail address works.

8. Remember that email is not a secure form of communication. Despite what you’ve heard about the NSA lately, it never was. Email is sent “In The Clear”, which means it’s just as easy for someone to snoop on your email as it is to steam open an envelope. For this reason, do not send credit card numbers or other sensitive information via email.

9. Don’t forward that latest “virus warning”, “product safety alert”, “dying kid’s last wish”, or anything else that tells you to send it to everybody you know. These are almost universally hoaxes. Some can do real harm, but at best they are nothing but gossip. Delete them. If unsure, you can check the urban legends reference site at snopes.com.

10. Be polite to your E-mail buddies. Instead of sending a ton of pictures in an email, consider putting them in an online gallery, such as Picasa, Dropbox, Facebook, or just start a photo blog on WordPress.com, where the blog you’re now reading is hosted.

Instead of forwarding that joke that’s been forwarded a thousand times, copy and paste just the joke into a new E-mail. And use the BCC (Stands for Blind Carbon Copy- you can send copies to everybody, but nobody knows you sent it to anybody else!) function on your E-mail so your recipients don’t get a message cluttered up with everybody else’s E-mail address (Some folks are very sensitive about that, and I don’t blame them!).