In order to understand the tactics and tricks of email scammers and spammers let’s first take a look at the history of internet scammers. Believe it or not, people have been scamming each other with technology for over almost 150 years! The first scammers used telegraphs to entice wealthy citizens with sketchy investment offers as early as 1864.
By 1978 in the early stages of email, the first spam email was sent to generate buzz for a new computer being released by Digital Computer Corp. Despite this tactic generating close to $12 million in new sales, the tactic was abandoned due to the irritation of those who received the email.
By 1994, internet users began using popular forums and news sites to spam other users with information. From 1994 to 2003, spam emails became a regular practice, with over 85% of emails being sent consisting of spam worldwide.
In 2003 the United States passed the aptly named CAN-SPAM Act, which includes regulations like forcing companies to place an “Opt-out” button in their emails. This act has been widely criticized for leaving many loopholes open for spammers, and preventing states from enacting stronger anti-spam laws of their own.
The Federal Trade Commission has a compliance guide for businesses where you can learn what is and isn’t acceptable in business emails. If you comb through this guide, you will see that unfortunately there are still a lot of opportunities for crafty scammers to continue their practices with little to no repercussions.
Over the last 15 years spammers have evolved with the times, and often include current events and scare tactics to accomplish their goals. Let’s take a look at some of the most common scam tactics today.
Common Scam Tactics and How to Avoid Them
Username and Password Scams
One of the most popular forms of scam emails indicate some form of security breach, and ask users to provide their username and password to remedy the situation. It is important to remember, no reputable company will ask you to send your username or password over email! If you are still uncertain whether the email is legitimate or not, contact the company via the information you have on file, not from the email that was sent! Mark this email as spam in your inbox and move on with your day.
Sometimes these scammers may even display one of your old passwords in the email, and threaten that they have control over your computer and have installed Malware. These scams are often accompanied by a threat that your personal information will be distributed unless you pay them off. When you receive these emails, don’t panic!
If they actually had access to your computer, why are they emailing you? When you receive one of these emails, immediately change the password in all places you use the breached password or username, and report it to the authorities.
Car Warranty Scam Calls
The car warranty spam call was the number 1 reported scam to the FCC in 2020, and it doesn’t appear to be relenting in 2021. These scammers are avoiding the do-not-call registry and calling millions of Americans illegally. USA Today recently ran a huge piece on these calls, as thousands of people have been duped into purchasing thousands of dollars worth of fake car warranties.
These spammers will often spoof familiar area codes or phone numbers to entice you to pick up, and once you interact, they’re in. When you receive these automated calls, hang up immediately! If you interact at all, even to “stop receiving these calls,” the scammers recognize that this is a working phone number, and you will receive more calls. When in doubt, hang up!
Social Security Breach Scam Calls
Telephone and email scammers have even begun impersonating government employees to get citizens to divulge very personal information that would leave them vulnerable for identity theft. The Social Security Agency has posted a handy guide covering how to avoid these scammers, and report them to the proper authorities. We have listed the things that Social Security will NEVER do over a phone call below.
- Threaten you
- Suspend your Social Security Number
- Demand immediate payment from you
- Require payment by cash, gift card, pre-paid debit card, or wire transfer.
- Ask for gift card numbers over the phone to wire or mail cash.
It is important to note that the elderly are the target of most scam calls and emails. If you haven’t already, educate those in your life who are vulnerable to these attacks. Make sure to learn how to know if you are being scammed, and feel free to use this as a reference!
The History of Hacking
Hacking and spamming often get lumped together, but they are very different in their goals and practices. Let’s take a look at the history of hacking to get a better understanding of hacker goals and how they achieve them.
Believe it or not, hacking began as a way for MIT students to exercise their computer programming skills in the 1960s and 1970s. As computers began to become more commonplace in other colleges and workplaces, hackers began using their skills for evil. In the 1980s computers became accessible to the average American and were no longer reserved for prestigious businesses and universities. This advancement led to more people pursuing hacking for personal gain, rather than programming prowess.
As the number of people using computers increased, so did the number of hackers. Hackers also began popping up in pop culture with movies like War Games, and books like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In the 1990s malicious hackers began stealing software from corporations, committing credit card fraud, and even leading the first digital bank heist.
In the early 2000s hackers began exploiting the explosion of the internet, and the fact that businesses began relying heavily on computers. This time also saw a more definitive split in hackers, their motivations, and their tactics.
The Three types of Hackers
There are three main types of hackers who are differentiated by their goals and how they achieve them.
White Hat Hackers
White hat hackers are those who are hacking for good. They search for bugs and weaknesses in corporations’ systems, and then notify their security team so they can improve their practices.
Black Hat Hackers
These hackers are looking for similar weaknesses as white hat hackers, but use the results for their own profit by stealing the information, exploiting it, or selling it to others.
Gray Hat Hackers
Gray hat hackers are somewhere in between. They are often engaging in activity that isn’t necessarily legal, but are doing so for the common good. These hackers are very controversial, but have often advanced the cyber security community with their findings.
Common Hacking Tactics and How to Avoid Them
Hackers and Cryptocurrency
Hackers have been utilizing cryptocurrency to operate and exchange money under the radar for over a decade. It should come as no surprise that when cryptocurrency entered the mainstream hackers would use their skills to exploit consumers and the exchanges they are using. Hackers have stolen $2.8 Billion in cryptocurrency since 2011, mainly by breaching popular websites that facilitate cryptocurrency trading. Notably, Coincheck suffered a breach that saw its users lose $535 million worth of NEM coins.
If you are currently buying and selling cryptocurrency we recommend storing your coins in an offline wallet. This keeps your coins offline in either an encrypted app on your computer or a physical hard drive. There are a wide variety of offline wallets available for different knowledge levels, check out this resource to find the right wallet for you.
Trojan Horse Viruses
We all know the trojan horse as the gift the Greeks gave the trojans, which turned out to be a trap to take down the city. In computing, a Trojan Horse Virus is malware that is disguised as a legitimate piece of software that aims to infect your computer and compromise your personal data. These viruses may enter your computer when you download a program that you thought to be a shared file from a coworker, a music program, or a free security program.
Trojan Horses can also be distributed through scamming tactics, like an email with a file or link attached. In recent years hackers have gotten crafty and created dozens of effective variations of trojan horse viruses. Norton Antivirus has a great guide on their website that outlines the different types of Trojan Horse viruses and how you can avoid them.
ATM Pinpad Hackers and Skimmers
Hackers have also developed ways to take advantage of ATM devices, gas station pump credit card readers, and other public places where you are scanning your credit cards. These devices are known as “Skimmers,” and are responsible for over $1 billion annually in stolen funds. These devices often look just like the card reader they are imitating, and you won’t know you have been had until suspicious charges begin showing up on your statement.
To avoid skimmers, be sure to examine the terminal that you are scanning your card with. If a chip reader is available, always opt for this choice rather than swiping. Also, you can use contactless and mobile pay options like Apple or Google Pay.
Hackers are sneaky, and are trying to obtain your information without you knowing it. Check out How to Protect Yourself From Hacking for some tips on how to thwart hackers from accessing your information and files.
Scammers vs. Hackers, What Makes Them Different?
Scammers and hackers are often understood as being the same thing, but they are actually quite different. Let’s take a look at some of the differences between them so we can better understand their motivations and tactics.
How they Obtain Information
Scammers focus on obtaining information directly from you by either tricking, blackmailing, impersonating a business that has access to your sensitive information. In some cases this makes them easier to pick out, but they are getting sneakier and learning new tricks as time goes on. Be sure to never give out your passwords or personal information when inquired. Almost all websites and businesses will not ask you for your password, only reset your password through the recommended channels on the website.
Hackers are trying to access your information without you realizing it. Using things like skimmers, malware, and even simple Google searches, hackers are trying to obtain your information secretly, and exploit it.
As technology continues to take over as a driving force in our lives, it is important to understand how hackers and scammers can take advantage of those who aren’t prepared. If you have any questions about how your business can be prepared for these attacks please feel free to contact us.