Hey, 'Donald Trump Wants You'!! (... & Other Lies Told by Spammers in 2005)
According to AOL's 3rd Annual Top Ten Spam List - Spammers Are Getting More Sophisticated, Devious and Dangerous SOS -- or 'Special Order Spam' -- Tops 2005 List
Does Donald Trump really want you? Will the Penis Patch improve your sex life? Is your mortgage application ready? Can you lose 6-20 inches in one hour with a body wrap? Did Lisa send you to the wrong site?
“What we're seeing is that spammers are far more organized and professional than ever before”
The answer to each of these questions is almost certainly no. But they are examples of increasingly sophisticated methods spammers are using to prey on email users this year, according to AOL's third annual Top 10 Spam List.
This year's analysis of hundreds of billions of attempted spam messages targeting AOL's global email customers finds that spammers are using more "special order" style subject lines. In fact, six in 10 of the top subject lines this year fall into this category, compared with just two in 2004, and none in 2003.
Instead of generic pitches for products, "SOS" -- or "special order spam" -- attempts to trick the consumer by pretending to be from a friend, or part of a legitimate, customer-driven transaction. For example, this year's Top 10 spam list features "Your Mortgage Application is Ready"; another claims to have sent "you to the wrong site," and others simply say "Thank you" or "Re: " as if they are responding to the recipient.
Returning favorites on the AOL Top 10 list include pitches for products that claim to improve physical appearance, sexual material, and offers for prescription drugs.
Here are AOL's 2005 Top 10 global spam subject lines (spam categories in parenthesis):
1) Donald Trump Wants You - Please Respond (popular recognition) 2) Double Standards New Product - Penis Patch (sexually oriented spam) 3) Body Wrap: Lose 6-20 inches in one hour (body improvement products) 4) Get an Apple iPod Nano, PS3 or Xbox 360 for Free (technology offers) 5) It's Lisa, I must have sent you to the wrong site ("personalized" correspondence) 6) Breaking Stock News** Small Cap Issue Poised to Triple (stock scams) 7) Thank you for your business. Shipment notification (77FD87) (bogus transactional spam) 8) (IMPORTANT) Your Mortgage Application is Ready (mortgage-related scams) 9) Thank you: Your $199 Rolex Special Included (high-end "deals") 10) Online Prescriptions Made Easy (pharmaceutical)
Source: AOL. This list is unscientific, and is not in any specific order. Parenthetical notations above are AOL's own editorial classification.
"Spammers have been on a year-long mission to mislead and deceive in 2005," said Charles Stiles, AOL's Postmaster - who helps direct AOL's 24/7/365 spam fighting unit. "While the volume of spam reaching AOL email inboxes has remained at low levels compared to it's height in late 2003, the spam that's out there is more insidious, crafty, devious, and dangerous than ever. So when it comes to protecting your in box, consumers should adopt a 'code red' mentality for 2006, because ultimately their personal identity is at stake."
The Changing Face of Spammers, 2004-2005:
Long gone are they days when spam was being generated by grandma peddling her cookie recipes, alumni seeking takers for college reunion-socials, tech-savvy teens, or small time spammers looking to make a quick buck. In 2005, spammers - and their tactics - became more sinister, organized and sophisticated.
"What we're seeing is that spammers are far more organized and professional than ever before," added Stiles. "They are going after Mainstreet USA with 'back alley' tactics, and they are doing it with a specialized team that's working overtime to hide the source of their spam by employing zombie PC's, bot-nets and using other nefarious tactics. Spam gangs on the internet engaging in 'hit-and-run' spam attacks in 2004 have turned into a tightly-knit, controlled, web-based spam mafia coordinating sustained attacks on netizens in 2005."
2005 Spam - By the Numbers:
The combination of consumer software tools, filtering technology, public policy, litigation and enforcement, and industry partnerships helped AOL stay one step ahead of the spammers throughout the year, even as they become more sophisticated. Spam reaching AOL customer email boxes remained at low levels in 2005, with a decline of more than 75% since its peak in late 2003 (as measured by member complaints). In 2005, AOL has also been blocking an average of 1.5 billion spam messages each day from reaching the email boxes of the AOL Network. The total number of spam emails blocked by AOL in 2005 reached over a half trillion (556 billion) - a slight increase over 2004. Finally, the percentage of total email that AOL blocks as spam at the gateway reached 80% in 2005 (or, AOL is blocking 8 out of every 10 attempted emails as spam in 2005).
New Spam Fighting Tips for the New Year:
Here are tips from AOL's Stiles on what consumers can do to help win the war on spam and protect themselves from "Special Order" attacks, and other new forms of spam.
1) Protect ALL personal information online. Don't give out any personal information in response to spam - in fact, don't respond to spam at all! Also, it's not just your social security number and financial information you'll want to protect. Some spammers start by asking for simple information like your name, phone number or address, which could lead to follow-up, more personalized and targeted spam - which AOL labels "SOS" spam, or "special order spam".
2) Don't click on links in spam. Avoid hyperlinks in junk email; in many cases they will take you to a spammer or scammer's Web site. AOL automatically disables web links in spam.
3) Keep spam filters up to date. Make sure your PC's spam filters are updated, and "fine tune" your spam folder regularly. Consider adding this year's AOL top spam subject lines to your content/keyword filters. By customizing and grooming your spam filters, you'll increase the amount of good mail you get, and divert the junk to your spam folder.
4) If it looks suspicious, report it. Remember, spam is getting more and more difficult to identify, so if there is any question about an email's legitimacy, pass it along to the experts to investigate. The more you report spam to your ISP, the more it will help companies like AOL to hunt spammers down and put them out of business.
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