email and internet spamRemember back to the beginning of the internet, like decades ago, when spammers were just people who liked canned meat? Salty and often needing medical attention when opening their meals, we might have thought these folks were a little gross, but we kept it to ourselves. But then the term started meaning something even more disgusting: online hacks. Whether these tech-savvy scam artists were out to steal money, personal information, or IP addresses, they were lying their way through the internet to do it. From anywhere between “I’m a foreign prince, give me money,” to “I look legitimate and want to evaluate your business,” these shady entrepreneurs stalked their way into gaining trust.

Hopefully, there’s something along the way that tips us off, like questionable email addresses, inconsistent company names, or something even more obvious. But unfortunately, there are likely hundreds that fall victim to these schemes each year; how else would scammers stay in business? Then again, maybe these email correspondents are just picking up some extra money after work; it’s an add-on job so they can shop or upgrade to the next cable package.

Do they work on commission? Do they stand around the water cooler shaking their fists at clients who figured out their schemes last minute? Or are these scammers individuals sitting in dark basements? Maybe if I agree to a scam, I can find one who will explain the logistics.

Today’s Terms

Perhaps what’s more troubling is the level of sophistication they’re now churning out. Sure their pleas still don’t make sense and there are subtle hints that their pants are on fire, but all in all, spammers are actually putting in the necessary time to do their job.

Over the past several weeks, I had a friend try to sell a fairly expensive rifle online. Using a local (and reputable) sales website, he chatted with an interested party from the Northeast.

  • flag number one, buyer wasn’t local

This oilrig engineer sent emails back and forth for more than a week, asking for the gun’s specs, pictures, and capabilities.

  • flag number two, though it seemed detailed, the buyer didn’t ask any specific questions about the gun, only for “more information”.

Next, payment details were discussed, including what platform was to be used.

  • flag three, buyer wasn’t willing to mail a check (though he was willing to pre-pay), and would rather pay PayPal or Google Wallet fees.

Then shipping specs game into play, providing the most inconsistent steps of all. Buyer provided vague details, asking my friend to pay the shipping company (though he would foot the bill) because “Western Union is too far away”. While this might have been a viable excuse in 1997, in today’s term that’s like saying “My email is too far away.” If you can get to a computer, you can get to Western Union.

  • flag four, shipping costs were 34 percent of the overall price (ridiculously high), with another 4.5 percent in Western Union fees. Buyer was willing to pay, no questions asked.

Because it was a gun, which requires a certain amount of legal steps for shipping, my friend asked a few questions, all of which went unanswered. Sure this guy could have been a mafia member desperately in need of a good assault weapon, willing to pay whomever whatever for a shady shipping service. But then he sent this:

paypal scam letter

The letterhead looked almost legit (though as a regular PayPal user I could spot the font differences), anyone who has spend a day using PayPal knows they don’t have “representatives,” (the company has better things to do than act like a sleazy middleman), nor are there “premier accounts.” And even if you didn’t know, the thought of sending hundreds when your account is at zero would make anyone feel uneasy. Besides, this email is sent from SecureRoot, not a PayPal email.

A second, non-official-looking, email was sent from “the shipper”.

Finally, when my friend responded to the buyer, telling him he knew it was a scam and he’d turned it into PayPal, the buyer was not only offended, but also retaliated with a signed letter from PayPal’s president. Because that’s what a company’s president should do, sign letters for everyday transactions within minutes of a hold up.

fake president of paypal(Scott Thompson isn’t the president of PayPal, BTW.)

Buyers and sellers beware! There’s a load of hacks out there just waiting to screw us all over. If it seems questionable, back out, and above all, don’t send money without a guarantee in place (contract, funds delivered upon receipt, etc.), especially when you’re the one with the item to sell. Spammers will still spam, but that doesn’t mean we have to bite.