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July 28, 2013

Clues help us detect and avoid email scams

NORMAN — Email anti-spam filters are often pretty bad at protecting email users. They let bad email through and block good messages with such regularity that I don’t really include them as part of my overall Internet safety strategy.

The spam filters that come along with having a Gmail email account are usually pretty good, though, but they still make mistakes. Today, another bad email sneaked past the Gmail filters, this time allegedly sent from Mrs. Susan Goedde.

The email’s subject line, which read “From Mrs Susan,” got my attention right off, as it lacked proper English punctuation. There should have been a period after “Mrs,” but the period was missing.

Astute Internet safety practitioners know that, because many dangerous spam emails originate from foreign-based criminals who do not have a good grasp of the English language, their emails are often filled with bad grammar and punctuation. That was dangerous email Clue No. 1.

Clue No. 2 appeared as soon as I looked at the sender’s email address, which was wabaf@email.

cz.

Overseas email addresses often include the country of origins “country code” at the end of the address, rather than the traditional “.com” or “.net” that many folks are used to seeing. This particular country code, “.cz,” is the code for the Czech Republic, part of what used to be known as Czechoslovakia. Why, I wondered, was “Mrs Susan” of the Czech Republic trying to contact me?

Clue No. 3 appeared as soon as I viewed the email, which Gmail had deemed to be safe: there was a “.pdf” file attached to the message, with the filename “from mrs susan goedde.pdf.”

I never open email attachments from strangers. The best email safety rules dictate that you should never open email attachments, even if they come from your best friend; exceptions would be if the sender tells you in the text of the message exactly what the attachment is, along with the filename.

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