The Federal Trade Commission today released a list of the 12 most common scams found in unsolicited commercial e-mail -- spam. The list was culled from a sampling of more than 250,000 junk e-mail messages that consumers have forwarded to a special FTC mailbox (email@example.com) set up to collect spam.
"The Dirty Dozen list of junk e-mail is a tip-off to a rip-off," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Spam is a problem for practically everyone with a computer," Bernstein said. "It’s annoying, it slows down the e-mail system and a lot of it is fraudulent," she said. "We have an e-mail box where consumers can send unwanted, unsolicited e- mail. We’re receiving more than 1,000 complaints a day."
Bernstein said the 12 most common types of spam scams include:
- Business Opportunity Scams -- Most of these scams promise a lot of income for a small investment of time and money. Some are actually old fashioned pyramid schemes camouflaged to look like something else. "Consumers should be careful of money-making schemes that sound too good to be true," said Bernstein. "They usually are."
- Making Money By Sending Bulk E-Mailings -- These schemes claim that you can make money sending your own solicitations via bulk e-mail. They offer to sell you lists of e-mail addresses or software to allow you to make the mailings. What they don’t mention is that the lists are of poor quality; sending bulk e-mail violates the terms of service of most Internet service providers; virtually no legitimate businesses engage in bulk e-mailings; and several states have laws regulating the sending of bulk e-mail.
- Chain Letters -- These electronic versions of the old fashioned chain letters usually arrive with claims like, "You are about to make $50,000 in less than 90 days!" "But you don’t," said Bernstein, "and these electronic chain letters are every bit as illegal as the old fashioned paper versions."
- Work-At-Home Schemes -- E-mail messages offer the chance to earn money in the comfort of your own home. Two popular versions pitch envelope stuffing and craft assembly. But nobody will really pay you for stuffing envelopes and craft assembly promoters usually refuse to buy the crafts claiming the work does not meet their "quality standards."
- Health And Diet Scams -- These offer "scientific breakthroughs," "miraculous cures," "exclusive products," "secret formulas," and "ancient ingredients." Some come with testimonials from "cured" consumers or endorsements from "famous medical experts" no one’s ever heard of. "These bogus cure-alls are just electronic snake oil," said Bernstein.
- Easy Money -- Offers such as "Learn how to make $4,000 in one day," or "Make unlimited profits exchanging money on world currency markets," appeal to the desire to "Get-Rich-Quick." "If making money was that easy, we’d all be millionaires," Bernstein said.
- Get Something Free -- The lure of valuable, free items -- like computers or long- distance phone cards -- gets consumers to pay membership fees to sign up with these scams. After they pay the fee, consumers learn that they don’t qualify for the "free" gift until they recruit other "members." "These scams are just low down, high tech pyramid schemes," Bernstein said.
- Investment Opportunities -- These scams may tout outrageously high rates of return with no risk. Glib, resourceful promoters suggest they have high-level financial connections; that they’re privy to inside information; or that they guarantee the investment. To close the deal, they may serve up phony statistics, misrepresent the significance of a current event or stress the unique quality of their offering. But they are not unique. They’re just like the other scams.
- Cable Descrambler Kits -- For a small initial investment you can buy a cable descrambler kit so you can receive cable without paying the subscription fees. "There are two small problems with these schemes," Bernstein said. "The kits usually don’t work and stealing cable service is illegal."
- Guaranteed Loans or Credit, On Easy Terms -- Some offer home-equity loans, even if you don’t have any equity in your home. Others offer guaranteed, unsecured credit cards, regardless of your credit history. The "loans" turn out to be lists of lending institutions and the credit cards never arrive.
- Credit Repair Scams -- These scams target consumers with poor credit records. For an up-front fee, they offer to clear up a bad credit record -- for a fee -- or give you a completely clean credit slate by showing you how to get an Employer Identification Number. "No one can erase a bad credit record if it’s accurate and using an Employer Identification Number to set up a new credit identity is against the law," Bernstein said.
- Vacation Prize Promotions -- Like their snail mail counterparts, these e-mail "Prize Promotions" tell consumers they’ve been selected to receive a "luxury" vacation at a bargain-basement price. But the accommodations aren’t deluxe and upgrades are expensive.
Copies of the FTC's Consumer Alert, "FTC Names Its Dirty Dozen: 12 Scams Most Likely to Arrive Via Bulk E-mail" and the FTC's Facts for Consumer's brochure about unsolicited commercial e-mail, "Trouble @ the In-Box," as well as a variety of other consumer education publications -- including publications on advance fee loans, credit repair, virtual health "treatments," pyramid schemes and investment scams -- are available on the FTC's web site at http://www.ftc.gov (no period) and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-FTC-HELP (202-382-4357); TDD for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326- 2710.
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