Minnesota Attorney General's Office
1400 Bremer Tower
445 Minnesota Street
St. Paul, MN 55101
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What You Can Do About Junk E-Mail
Spammers send up to 100 million junk emails a day. Although most are never opened, enough people click on the links to make junk email, also called “spam,” a lucrative industry. Spam emails are not only a nuisance but can damage your computer and allow an attacker access to your private and financial information.
Junk emails take many forms. Some are attempts to sell questionable products, such as herbal supplements or weight loss services. Others are attempts to commit financial fraud, such as “phishing” schemes designed to dupe citizens into giving out their private banking information to a scam artist or so called “Nigerian investment scams” in which the sender poses as a foreign bank official to lure citizens into supplying account information to a criminal.
So what can a consumer do? The following tips are designed to protect your computer and yourself from becoming a victim of fraud or damage perpetrated through junk emails.
Disguised and Dangerous
“Phishing.” Some scammers pose as legitimate banks, retailers, employers, or social networking “friends” in order to get people to inadvertently supply personal information, such as banking details and passwords. The scammers then use the personal information to drain bank accounts or steal the citizen’s identity. Remember: reputable organizations do not ask you to respond to emails by supplying personal information.
“Spearphishing.” “Spearphishing” involves sending personalized messages to an organization from what appears to be a trusted source, such as an IT staff member asking for personal information or passwords. Spearphishing attacks have occurred at financial institutions, law firms, and government offices.
Spyware and Malware. A lot of spam is sent out by networks of “zombie” computers or “bots” that have been infected by spyware and are used by criminals. Law abiding citizens may not even know their computers are unwittingly sending spam. The number of bots has nearly quadrupled ever year. In 2009, several million active bots engaged in malicious activity over the course of any month.
The Federal CAN-SPAM Act
A federal law passed in 2003 called the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act, or the “CAN-SPAM Act,” has been ineffective in curbing the growing deluge of junk email. The CAN-SPAM Act only requires senders of junk email to follow certain nominal rules. For example, senders may not use other companies’ domain names; email subject headers must not be deceptive; and sexually explicit email must be labeled as such. Spam email must also offer a way for the citizen to “opt out” of receiving future emails, and the sender has ten business days to comply.
The CAN-SPAM Act is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”). If you have a complaint about junk emails, you should contact the FTC’s toll-free helpline: 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).
Dealing With Unwanted Emails
The following are some tips to deal with unwanted emails: