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Top 5 spam scams

We've all been hit with the so-called Nigerian "419" scam—make a fortune, just for letting a deposed leader use your bank account to store some cash. Here are five more e-mail cons—and some of their intended victims (as interpreted by photographer Anthony Pileggi)

Globe and Mail Update

Overpayment fraud This is an old "hand is quicker than the eye" trick. It's fast and conceivable, and can carry a big wallop. »You've found a buyer on eBay for that velvet Elvis you've been trying to sell. The buyer agrees to pay you $50 and subsequently sends you a cheque—for $500. You contact the sender at their Yahoo, Hotmail or Gmail address. They claim to have made an honest mistake and ask you to wire them back the difference once the cheque has been deposited. The sophisticated counterfeit cheque passes the teller's inspection and ends up in your account, at which time you head to Western Union. Several days later, the cheque bounces, your goods are gone, and you're out $450. Bogus goods and services These scams generally provide some return—but in the form of fake merchandise and lots of headaches. »Chances are you've received plenty of "work-from-home" e-mails. These "opportunities" will usually end up costing you money—they often require that you pay hidden costs for classified ads, photocopies, software and other expenses, all without pay. »Psst! Wanna buy some cheap Viagra? If you bite, you'll probably end up getting some pills in the mail—but odds are they'll be fake or long expired. As for miracle weight-loss pills and body-part enhancements, they haven't been invented yet, so don't be disappointed when you receive starch pills. »If a deal is too good to be true, it probably is—so don't buy that dirt-cheap Rolex watch. The trick to this con is in the wording. Spammers carefully select words like "genuine replica," which is a clear contradiction. What's worse is that the fake you buy probably won't even be worth the money—a Rolex knockoff sells for about $5 at any Hong Kong night market. Phishing These e-mails are designed to scam a recipient into disclosing private information and often appear in the form of very sophisticated-looking messages from what seem to be legitimate sources—banks, government branches, and pay services like PayPal or Western Union. The idea is to gain enough critical information to clean out your bank account, apply for credit cards in your name, or obtain a false passport. » A couple of years ago, many Canadians received an e-mail that fraudulently represented itself as being from the Department of Finance Canada. The e-mail explained that the recipient was due a tax refund and asked them to return a completed form that included vital personal information.

Pharming This is a far less detectable form of phishing—which makes it even more dangerous. Pharming is a prime example of how spammer technologies are constantly evolving. »A spammer plants malware on your computer that redirects you to a bogus bank site when you type the legitimate URL into your Web browser. Odds are that the phony site won't match the one you're looking for—for instance, you bank at RBC and it takes you to Citibank—but in a few cases, it will. Those victims will then unwittingly divulge passwords, account information and other personal data. Advance fee fraud These are typically designed to extract an up-front payment in return for the promise of financial reward. The fees are generally described as processing fees, commissions, taxes or duties. »The spammer claims to be working on behalf of a lender who has "approved" you for some form of financial relief—a second mortgage or loan, perhaps. They ask for a fee to process your file, then promptly disappear.

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