The Federal Trade Commission has issued a new consumer alert, “Who’s Spamming Who? Could it be You?,” that warns consumers of spammers who may be compromising other people’s computers to send unsolicited – and possibly offensive – email offers for products and services.
Computer security experts estimate that as much as 30 percent of all spam is sent by compromised computers located in home offices and living rooms, but controlled from afar.
According to the FTC, spammers can compromise computers in several ways, depending upon the type of Internet connection. Broadband connections are the most vulnerable and attractive to spammers because they are “always on.” Spammers install a hidden software that allows remote access to your data and programs, which then allows the spammer to send messages from your computer.
“Spam isn’t just annoying, it also can be a threat to computers and personal information,” said Howard Beales, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Up-to-date anti-virus software and a firewall that’s properly configured will go a long way toward keeping computers secure. In addition, consumers should be very cautious about opening email attachments.”
If your computer has been taken over by a spammer, you could face serious problems. Your Internet Service Provider may prevent you from sending any email at all until the virus is treated, and treatment could be a complicated, time-consuming process. To avoid becoming an unwitting culprit, the FTC encourages you to:
- Use anti-virus software and keep it up to date. Look for anti-virus software that recognizes current viruses, as well as older ones; can effectively reverse the damage; and updates automatically.
- Be cautious about opening any attachment or downloading any files from email messages you receive.
- Use a firewall to protect your computer from hacking attacks while it is connected to the Internet. A properly configured firewall makes it tougher for hackers to locate your computer and get into your program and files.
- Check your “sent items” file or “outgoing” mailbox to see if there are messages that you did not intend to send.
- If your computer is infected, take action immediately. Disconnect from the Internet and then scan your computer with an anti-virus software.
- Learn more about securing your computer at www.ftc.gov/infosecurity.
To order copies of this or other FTC Consumer Alerts, visit www.ftc.gov/bcp/online/pubs.bulkordr.htm. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint, or to get free information on consumer issues, visit www.ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261.
The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure online database available for hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.