Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Dangers Of Chain Letters And Petition Lists

The Dangers Of Chain Letters And Petition Lists
By Coenraad De Beer

Have you ever thought about the purpose of chain letters? Do you think petition lists ever promote the specific cause they were created for? Very few people ask themselves these questions when they receive chain letters and petition list spam, simply because they act like mindless zombies when it comes to responding to these e-mails. Instead of ignoring them, they follow each instruction within these e-mails down to the very last bit of detail. Have people forgot to question the purpose of their actions or are they deliberately exposing themselves to the dangers of these unsolicited e-mails?

I think chain letters and petition lists are nothing new to the e-mail user of today. At some stage in your computerised life you will run across an e-mail requesting you to either support some cause or to mindlessly forward it to all your contacts. People have become slaves of spam and spammers are enjoying it every step of the way. Very few understand the dangers of chain letters and petition lists. They are the fuel for spam, scams, identity theft and online fraud. They are the mechanisms that cause your inbox to be polluted with buckets of unsolicited bulk e-mails and attempts to rob you from all your hard earned cash. The ever-increasing problem of spam is our own fault, because we continue to support useless, unwanted e-mails that simply eat up bandwidth and delay servers everywhere.

But how exactly can a harmless e-mail pose any dangers to my online security? It is ignorant questions like these that help spam achieve their goals. What people don’t realise is the fact that every time you take part in a chain letter you supply your e-mail address to hundreds of other e-mail users out there. Chances are good that this chain letter will land in the mailbox of a greedy spammer. The tragedy of chain letters is the fact that e-mail addresses of innocent people are sent all over the globe. This is the case when someone sends an e-mail for instance to six people, the first three recipients ignore it and the other three forward it to all their contacts. The e-mail addresses of the first three recipients are distributed along the chain without their consent, permission or even having a say against their inclusion in the mailing list. Your e-mail address becomes yet another dumping zone for endless junk e-mails. But it doesn’t stop at simple advertising e-mails for fake Rolex watches and stock market quotes. You get bombarded with continuous ‘phishing’ scams, viruses and hoaxes. Petition lists normally require the user to supply a name followed by an e-mail address and sometimes a telephone number and the city you live in. A petition list is a handy tool in the hands of a spamming swindler. You can supply more targeted and credible scam e-mails by addressing the e-mail to a specific person. This can create a false sense of security among the recipient of the e-mail and the chances of walking into a trap is much greater than in the case of your conventional impersonal scam e-mails.

I can hear thousands of people screaming that petition lists are for good causes, causes that really exist. Do all of them really exist? So many people respond to petition lists because they appear to be for valid causes. What do you know about the person you need to reply to for every 150th or 300th entry on the list? How sure are you that this person is not simply harvesting e-mail addresses for spamming purposes? And even if it is for a good cause that really exists, how do you know whether this person is not exploiting the circumstances? I have seen e-mails (even faxes and normal letters) circulating in South Africa where people send their names and banking details all over the world in search of riches. I have seen people blindly respond to lottery scams with the hopes that they will win something. How can you win a lottery if you never entered one, how can you receive e-mails from Barclays bank if you are not a client of them, how can you receive an order confirmation from Amazon if you never ordered from them and how can you be alerted about suspicious activity on eBay if you are not even a member? If it is not mindless ignorance it is greediness that cause people to step with open eyes into a trap, ignoring every warning light flashing in their faces.

The more information you supply when taking part in petition lists or chain letter scams, the easier you make it for swindlers to steal your identity, hack your accounts or turn your computer into a spamming zombie. Next time when you receive a chain letter or petition list, think about the consequences before taking part in the chain

About the Author
Coenraad is webmaster and founder of Cyber Top Cops, leaders in Internet security, prevention of online fraud and educating users against malicious software. For examples of chain letters and scams visit our Hoaxes and Scams section.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great article, there are still lots and lots of chain letter type scams going around, and still soooo many people fall for them it is ridiculous, i wrote an article about one that i keep seeing constantly posted everywhere on the internet , can click my post name to read it