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Issue 68 - Hoax-Slayer Newsletter

Issue 68: January 2007

This month in Hoax-Slayer:
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Hoax-Slayer is a Free Monthly Web-Based Newsletter brought to you by Brett Christensen

The Hoax-Slayer Newsletter keeps you informed about the latest email hoaxes and current Internet scams. Hoax-Slayer also features anti-spam tips, computer security information, pertinent articles and more.

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Hitman Payoff Scam Email

The email shown below claims that a hitman has been paid $50,000 to "terminate" you. According to the message, however, the hitman will cancel this contract and spare your life if you pay him a large sum of money. The message claims that "a friend" ordered the hit, but after following you for over a week, the assassin is now convinced that you are innocent and is therefore willing to let you live in exchange for a substantial payout.

However, the email is nothing more than an attempt to extort money. The scammers hope that the fear generated by such an overtly threatening message will be enough to convince the victim to pay up. With such large sums of money involved, the scammers would only have to con one victim to make the exercise worthwhile. The specified payout amounts in the emails may vary. In the example shown here, the "hitman" demands $80,000 overall with an initial instalment of $20,000. The scammer has hit pay dirt even if he only manages to extort this initial $20,000 before his victim wakes up to the scam.

In December 2006, the FBI issued the following alert about these scam emails:
E-MAILS CONTAINING THREATS AND EXTORTION

12/07/06—We have recently received information concerning spam e-mails threatening to assassinate the recipient unless the individual pays several thousand dollars to the sender of the e-mail.

The subject claims to have been following the victim for some time and was supposedly hired to kill the victim by a friend of the victim. The subject threatens to carry out the assassination if the victim goes to the police and requests the victim to respond quickly and provide their telephone number.

Warning! Providing any personal information can compromise your identify and open you to identity theft.

If you have experienced this situation, please notify your local, state, or federal law enforcement agency immediately. Also, please notify the IC3 by filing a complaint at www.ic3.gov.
A variation of the same basic scam in which emails claimed to be from the FBI in London, prompted a second FBI alert in January 2007:
NEW TWIST CONCERNING THREAT AND EXTORTION E-MAILS

01/09/07—There is a new twist to the IC3 alert posted on December 7, 2006 regarding e-mails claiming that the sender has been paid to kill the recipient and will cancel the contract on the recipient's life if that person pays a large sum of money. Now e-mails are surfacing that claim to be from the FBI in London. These e-mails note the following information:

* An individual was recently arrested for the murders of several United States and United Kingdom citizens in relation to this matter.
* The recipient's information was found on the subject identifying the recipient as the next victim.
* The recipient is requested to contact the FBI in London to assist with the investigation.
* It is not uncommon for an Internet fraud scheme to have the same overall intent but be transmitted containing variations in the e-mail content, e.g., different names, e-mail addresses, and/or agencies reportedly involved.

Please note, providing any personal information in response to an unsolicited e-mail can compromise your identity and open you to identity theft.

If you have experienced this situation please notify the IC3 by filing a complaint at www.ic3.gov.

Due to the threat of violence inherent in these extortion e-mails, if you receive an e-mail that contains personally identifiable information that might differentiate your e-mail from the general e-mail spam campaign, we encourage you to contact the police.

According to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the scam may be deliberately targeting professionals such as dentists. In a practise dubbed "spear phishing", scammers may target a select group that are considered to be prime candidates for a particular scam. In this case, the scammers focus on professional people who may be more likely to be in a position to pay the large sums demanded in the messages.

These scam emails are generally sent to a large number of people within a targeted group in the hope that one or more will respond and be drawn further into the scam. Thus, if you receive one of these messages, you should not reply or respond to the scammers in any way. As well as the direct attempts to extort money, the scammers may also try to harvest personal information from a victim so that they can steal his or her identity.

Since scammers send to a long list of email addresses, their initial messages are usually a generic, "one size fits all" template designed simply to elicit a first response. As the FBI alert quoted above notes, however, if the email is seemingly directed specifically to you and includes your name and/or other personal information, then you should certainly contact police.

References:
FBI - New E-Scams & Warnings
'Hitman' e-mails rattle recipients

An example of the scam email:
Good day,

I want you to read this message very carefully, and keep the secret with you till further notice, You have no need of knowing who i am, where am from, till i make out a space for us to see, i have being paid $50,000.00 in advance to terminate you with some reasons listed to me by my employers, its one i believe you call a friend, i have followed you closely for one week and three days now and have seen that you are innocent of the accusation, Do not contact the police or F.B.I. or try to send a copy of this to them, because if you do i will know, and might be pushed to do what i have being paid to do, beside, this is the first time I turned out to be a betrayer in my job.

Now, listen, i will arrange for us to see face to face but before that i need the amount of $80,000.00 and you will have nothing to be afraid of. I will be coming to see you in your office or home determine where you wish we meet, do not set any camera to cover us or set up any tape to record our conversation, my employer is in my control now, You will need to pay $20,000.00 to the account i will provide for you, before we will set our first meeting, after you have make the first advance payment to the account, i will give you the tape that contains his request for me to terminate you, which will be enough evidence for you to take him to court (if you wish to), then the balance will be paid later.

You don't need my phone contact for now till am assured you are ready to comply good.

Lucky You.


[TOP]



Grand Canyon Leap

The photographs that travel with the email forward shown below depict a photographer making an apparently death-defying leap from one rocky Grand Canyon outcrop to another. The outcrops soar thousands of feet above the floor of the Canyon, and, from the viewpoint of the photographs, it seems apparent that any slip would be fatal. The leaping man shown in the photos is carrying his photographic equipment and wearing only thong sandals on his feet, making the stunt seem even more foolhardy.

The photographs are genuine and were indeed taken by Dutch photographer Hans van de Vorst. However, the photographs do not tell the whole story. The two outcrops are actually joined by a rock ledge that cannot be seen in the photographs. If the leaper had slipped, he would have probably landed, relatively unscathed, or at least alive, on this ledge rather than plummeted thousands of feet to the canyon floor. Another photograph of the same outcrops taken from a different angle clearly shows the connecting ledge.

Moreover, others have also taken the leap. Another photographer, Dana Watson, captured a shot of Ron Toms performing the same stunt. An FAQ about Ron's leap includes more photographs showing the rock ledge.

Regardless of the hidden rock ledge, the photographs are truly spectacular. Even with a ledge, these leaps are certainly not for the faint of heart and could still be very dangerous.

References:
flickr: Cliffhanger
About _Hans van de Vorst
flickr photo: Grand Canyon 101
Ron at the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon Leap of Death FAQ

An example of the message:
Subject: Things I will never do in Grand Canyon

This is a case of "photographer photographs photographer." The following photographs were taken by photographer Hans van de Vorst at the Grand Canyon, Arizona.

The descriptions are his own. The identity of the photographer IN the photos is unknown.

Note:
The sequence of photographs that are include in the email, along with the photographer's description, can be seen in their original context on the flickr website.









[TOP]



Floating Volcanic Stones and New Island in the South Pacific

The email forward shown below arrives with a series of photographs that depict a yacht's encounter with a large area of floating volcanic stones and the apparent birth of a new volcanic island in the South Pacific Ocean. Although the images are certainly unusual, they are genuine. Both the phenomena of the floating stones and the newly formed volcanic island have now been well documented by a variety of reliable sources including NASA.

The images in the email were taken from a post on the blog operated by Fredrik Fransson and the crew of the yacht 'Maiken'. In August 2006, the Maiken was sailing in the South Pacific near Tonga when it came across a large area of floating volcanic stones (pumice). When lava with a high gas and water content erupts from a volcano and then cools it can produce pumice, a very light rock material filled with gas bubbles. Pumice is the only kind of rock that can float on water. A large mass of pumice floating on the ocean surface is known as a "pumice raft".

The Maiken attempted to sail into this massive pumice raft but was soon forced to turn back:
And then we sailed into a vast, many miles wide, belt of densely packed pumice. We were going by motor due to lack of wind and within seconds Maiken slowed down from seven to one knot. We were so fascinated and busy taking pictures that we plowed a couple of hundred meter into this surreal floating stone field before we realized that we had to turn back. Just as we came out of the stone field and entered reasonably normal water we noticed that there came no cooling water from the engine.
Several other vessels in the region at the time also observed large pumice rafts.

The day after their encounter with the pumice raft, the Maiken crew discovered the volcano itself:
A couple of hours ago we identified the active volcano as the one close to Home reef, and we are on our way there now to take a closer look.
We are two miles from it and we can see the volcano clearly. One mile in diameter and with four peaks and a central crater smoking with steam and once in a while an outburst high in the sky with lava and ashes.
I think were the first ones out here so perhaps we could claim the island and name them(?)

The following satellite image published by NASA's Earth Observatory clearly shows a large pumice raft as well as the new island:

Pumice Raft and New Island
Photo courtesy Jesse Allen NASA Earth Observatory

Google Earth users can download a file showing the new island via the Earth Observatory website.

To view all of the photographs of the pumice raft and new island that come with this email forward, and read more about the Maiken's adventures, visit the Fredrik and Crew on Maiken Blog.

References:
Fredrik and Crew on Maiken: Stone sea and volcano
Wikipedia - Pumice
Fredrik and Crew on Maiken: Whales and volcanoes
Global Volcanism Program | Home Reef | Monthly Reports
New Island and Pumice Raft in the Tongas
New Volcanic Island Reported in South Pacific Near Tonga
Geologist hopes to visit newly emerged volcanic island near Tonga

Geologist hopes to visit newly emerged volcanic island near Tonga

An example of the email:
Subject: Volcanic stones on Ocean

August 2006, the yacht 'Maiken' is travelling in the south Pacific when they came across a weird sight...

It was sand in the water, and floating ON TOP of the waves...

Volcanic Stones on Water

The email arrives with a series of photographs. All of the photographs are available on the blog run by the crew of the yacht "Maiken".

The email includes the following captions with the images:

This is not a beach, it is volcanic stones floating on the water.

The trail left by the yacht...

And then this was spotted... ash and steam rising from the ocean...

And, while they were watching...

A brand new island formed...

A plume of black ash...

Pretty wild, huh?



[TOP]



Outstanding Computer Security Guidebook - The Hacker's Nightmare

A great way to ensure that your computers, and your important files, are really safe and secure is to implement the knowledge found in "The Hacker's Nightmare", a terrific computer security eBook. I consider "The Hacker's Nightmare to be an extremely valuable computer security resource that is well worth the purchase price.

One of the great advantages of "The Hacker's Nightmare" is that it is presented in plain English and even inexperienced computer users should have no problems understanding and implementing the advice it contains. The book unfolds as a step-by-step tutorial that shows you how to secure your computer and practice safe and efficient computing. The book eloquently explains why a particular computer security or safety procedure is necessary. It then supplies detailed instructions about how to implement the procedure. For example, if the author, Bill Hely, recommends that readers install a particular program, he explains why the software is necessary as well as how to download, install and configure it. The book runs to almost 500 pages, so while it is easy to understand and does not drown the reader in jargon or unnecessary technical details, it does thoroughly cover a wide range of computer security and safety issues.

Bill Hely writes very well, and he has incorporated a great many screen shots and illustrations that make it quite simple to follow the instructions he provides. The book is in PDF, so that you can download and begin reading immediately after purchase.

Regardless of whether you are a new computer user running a single machine, you maintain a home network for your family or you are responsible for computers in a business environment, this book can help you implement a very high level of computer security. What's more, "The Hacker's Nightmare" gives you the knowledge to achieve this high level of computer security without the need to outlay large fees for professional security consultants or highly priced software.

Millions of computers around the world run virtually unprotected from hackers, worms, viruses, trojans, spyware, spammers, scammers and all manner of heinous cyber-scum. The good news is that even the most inexperienced computer user can very effectively take control of all the threats listed above by implementing the free or inexpensive computer security methods outlined in "The Hacker's Nightmare". Unfortunately, many people still think that they do not really need to secure their computers or that good computer security is "too hard" or "too expensive" for "ordinary" computer users. "The Hacker's Nightmare" very effectively lays all these dangerous myths to rest.

Many computer users who think they have adequate computer security in place might be shocked to find out how vulnerable their systems really are. If every Windows computer user read and implemented the knowledge contained in "The Hacker's Nightmare", the Internet would be a much safer and more productive environment in which to work and play. I am proud to be an affiliate for "The Hacker's Nightmare", and I unreservedly recommend this book for all those who want to ensure that their computers and their information remains safe and secure.

Visit the Hacker's Nightmare Website

As noted above, I am an affiliate for "The Hacker's Nightmare". For more information please refer to my Affiliate Marketing Policy



[TOP]



Incredible Music Machine Prank - University of Iowa

A video that supposedly shows an incredible music machine created out of farm equipment is circulating via email and online. The video itself is certainly an incredible and inspiring piece of work. However, it is a work of computer animation and does not depict a real machine made of farm equipment or anything else. The video is a piece called Pipe Dream that was created by Wayne Lytle, and Dave Crognale and their team at Animusic, a content creation company located in Austin, Texas.

The company has created a number of quite amazing 3D computer graphics music animation videos that are available via the company website. According to information on the Animusic website:
Both the graphics and the music are entirely digitally synthesized. Virtual instruments are invented by building computer graphics models of objects that would appear to create the sound of the corresponding music synthesizer track. Graphical instruments range from being reminiscent of existing instruments to arbitrarily abstract.
Apparently, some unknown prankster saw fit to create a fanciful tale to go along with the unusual video. Even the university departments named in the message appear to be fictitious. There is no record of the "Robert M. Trammell Music Conservatory" or the "Sharon Wick School of Engineering" at the University of Iowa or anywhere else. According to an article about the prank email on Iowa's KCRG:
The machine is supposedly a collaborative effort between the Robert M. Trammell Music Conservatory and the Sharon Wick School of Engineering but if you search the campus high and low you’ll never find either of those buildings. They don’t exist.
There is no need to malign this fantastic animation by tacking on a foolish and totally fictitious cover story. Such clever work speaks for itself and needs no embellishment. Moreover, the real creators of the animation deserve credit for their genius. If you receive this email forward, please let the sender know the true origin of the "farm machine music" video.

References:
Animusic Home Page
Animusic - DVD Info & Clips - Animusic 1
Animusic - Company
Hoax Targets U of I

An example of the prank email:
Subject: Fw: University of Iowa Farm Machine Music

This incredible machine was built as a collaborative effort between the Robert M. Trammell Music Conservatory and the Sharon Wick School of Engineering at the University of Iowa. Amazingly, 97% of the machines components came from John Deere Industries and Irrigation Equipment of Bancroft Iowa. Yes farm equipment!

It took the team a combined 13,029 hours of set-up, alignment, Calibration and tuning before filming this video but as you can see it was WELL worth the effort.

It is now on display in the Matthew Gerhard Alumni Hall at the University and is already slated to be donated to the Smithsonian.




[TOP]



ATM Fraud Warning - XRAY Film Card Slot Trap

A warning about ATM theft formatted as a Microsoft PowerPoint slide show is currently circulating via email and online. The type of ATM theft shown in the presentation is real. The presentation features a series of images that depict how a "trap" can be placed into an ATM card slot in the form of a thin strip of XRAY film. Text in the presentation explains:
The trap is made up of XRAY film, which is the preferred material by thieves; Simply because of the black color which is similar in appearance to the slot on the card reader.

The trap is then inserted into the ATM slot. Care is taken not to insert the entire film into the slot, the ends are folded and contain glue strips for better adhesion to the inner and outer surface of the slots.

Once the ends are firmly glued and fixed to the slot, it is almost impossible to detect by unsuspecting clients.

After the trap is placed, the next card that is inserted into the ATM will be held inside the slot. The card owner will think the card has been confiscated. The thief responsible for the trap then attempts to trick the victim into revealing his or her PIN by pretending to offer help to recover the card:
The good Samaritan convinces the "chump" He can recover the card,if he presses his PIN at the same time the Samaritan press "cancel" and "enter".

When this "help" proves to be fruitless, the victim finally leaves without his or her card. The thief will appear to leave as well. However, the thief will quickly return to the ATM and use the XRAY film to retrieve the card. Since he already has the victim's PIN, he can then use the card to steal funds from the victim's account.

The theft technique described in the presentation is one of the most common types of ATM fraud and is often referred to as a "Lebanese loop". As well as XRAY film, a range of other materials can be used. According to Reference.com:
The term "Lebanese loop" is applied to any number of similar devices that are used to perpetrate ATM fraud by retaining the user's card. In their simplest form, Lebanese loops consist of a strip or sleeve of metal or plastic (even something as simple as a strip of video cassette tape) that is inserted into the ATM's card slot. When the victim inserts their ATM card, the loop prevents the card being drawn into the machine, fooling the user into believing the machine has malfunctioned or retained their card. In a typical scam, the perpetrator will obtain the victim's PIN either by watching them enter it the first time (shoulder surfing), or by approaching the victim under the pretence of offering help and suggesting they re-enter their PIN (and again, watching them do so). Once the victim has left the ATM, the perpetrator retrieves the loop and the trapped card, and uses it, along with their PIN, to withdraw cash from the victim's account.

In more sophisticated versions of the scam, the criminals may actually mount a small camera near the ATM and remotely record the PIN entered via a nearby laptop computer.

Although the scam described is real, the origin of the images used in the presentation is unclear. The date stamp on the images show that they were taken in 2001, but the presentation contains no information about the location of the crime or if the criminals responsible were apprehended. In fact, it is unclear if the images are surveillance footage of an actual crime or were simply staged to illustrate how such crimes are perpetrated. A link to the slide show is included on the Las Vegas Police Managers and Supervisors Association website, but the site does not explain who created the presentation or where it came from.

Regardless of the origins of the images used, the presentation does serve as a valid warning to ATM users. The presentation includes the following recommendations for those who may encounter such a scenario:
1.-Once your card has been confiscated, observe the ATM slot and the card reader for any signs of tampering. Should you see the film tips glued to the slot, unglue, pull the trap out and recover your card.

2.- Report IMMEDIATELY to the BanK.

ATM users should always take a moment to examine the machine for signs of tampering. Lebanese loops are only one method of perpetrating ATM fraud. Criminals may also install technically sophisticated ATM skimming equipment and hidden cameras on the machine that allows them to capture bank card numbers and PIN's. These numbers can then be used on fake cards to steal the victim's funds.

ATM users should also be wary of people who may seem to be hanging around a machine. If your card does get "confiscated" by the ATM, be very cautious of accepting help from strangers. Never enter your PIN in a situation in which an observer is close enough to see which numbers you press.

References:
Lebanese loop
LVPMSA - ATM Thefts and Gift Card Fraud Alert
Converted ATM's Steal Bank Customer ID's - ATM Skimming Fraud Warning

An example of the warning email:
Subject: FW: ATM THEFTS - READ FOR YOUR OWN PROTECTION

This is worth knowing. Please send to all

ATM Theft Slide 1

This image is just one in a series presented as a PowerPoint slide show.

Microsoft PowerPoint, the MS PowerPoint Viewer or another compatible program needs to be installed on your computer.


Download PowerPoint Presentation (558kb)




[TOP]



Cold-fx Cancer Warning Hoax

The email forward included below warns recipients that the cold and flu remedy COLD-fx is dangerous for women who already have cancer or have a family history of cancer. According to the warning, there is a substance in COLD-fx that cancer cells can "feed off" thereby making the cancer worse.

However, I have found no evidence of any kind that supports the claims in this message. Like many other health "warnings", this one contains no information or reference material to back up its claims. Cold fx is Canada's most popular cold and flu remedy and has been available there for a number of years. In 2006, the product was cleared for sale in the US. If the claims had any substance whatsoever, they would be well publicized in a variety of ways. Consumers would be informed of any potential danger via product labelling, cancer health related websites and publications, news reports, and government health agencies. CV Technologies, the Alberta based company that makes and distributes the product, is very unlikely to risk financially crippling legal actions by failing to disclose links between COLD fx and increased cancer risks. In fact the company has publicly denied the rumour. CV Technologies has published the following information in the FAQ section of the Cold fx website:

I have heard that taking COLD-fX is dangerous for women who have or are at risk for developing cancer and that it "feeds" hormonal cancers. Is this correct?

No, this is not correct. COLD-fX has been clinically proven to be a safe and effective product. The safety of COLD-fX has been reviewed by both Health Canada, and more recently, the U.S. FDA who filed a safety-related New Dietary Ingredient submission without comment. There is no evidence suggesting that COLD-fX is unsafe for patients with cancer, or specifically, hormone-related cancers. COLD-fX has not demonstrated any carcinogenic effects in toxicity studies in any of the clinical trials or through the extensive usage by the general population.

This false impression may relate to some un-confirmed laboratory studies suggesting that crude ginseng containing chemicals known as ginsenosides may have estrogen-related effects. During the COLD-fX manufacturing process, these ginsenosides are removed so that the final product is comprised of a proven safe ingredient: polysaccharides (specifically, poly-furanosyl-pyranosyl-saccharides).

There is no clinical evidence to suggest that ginseng in general is unsafe for women who have or are at risk for developing hormone-related cancers. In fact, a recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology (Cui Y et al, 163(7):645) demonstrated that regular users of ginseng had improved survival and quality of life in breast cancer patients. The National Cancer Institute of the U.S. NIH has recently supported a well-controlled Mayo Clinic study to further investigate the potential benefits of American ginseng in cancer patients, including women. COLD-fX has also demonstrated anti-cancer effects through immune enhancement in pre-clinical laboratory studies of a leukemia model.

Although there is no evidence to suggest COLD-fX is un-safe for women who have or are at risk for developing hormone-related cancers, it is recommend that individuals with any serious medical condition consult with their physician prior to taking COLD-fX.

Thus, the rumour is baseless, and perpetrating it by forwarding this warning email will serve no good purpose. While legitimate health warnings may sometimes circulate via email, such warnings can always be verified via other credible sources such as government health authorities and news outlets. It is exceptionally unlikely that genuine product related health warnings will be distributed solely via unconfirmed email forwards and unsubstantiated blog and forum posts.

If you receive a health warning in the form of an email forward or see such a warning published on a blog or online forum, always take a few minutes to check its veracity via a reliable independent source. Passing on a bogus or misleading health warning will only cause unnecessary alarm, spread misinformation, and needlessly clutter inboxes.

References:
COLD-fx
CV Technologies' Cold-fX cleared for sale in United States
CV Technologies
FAQs | ColdFX

An example of the hoax email:
A friend that is currently battling cancer went for her Chemo treatment yesterday and the doctor had asked her if there was anything she had been taking such as vitamins etc. She mentioned to the doctor that she was fighting a cold and she was taking Cold FX. Turns out the doctor said to her that for a WOMAN, Cold FX is the worst thing to take if you've got cancer or if cancer runs in your family. Apparently there is a substance in the Cold FX that the cancer cells just feed off of.

The doctor repeatedly told her how dangerous it was and to absolutely avoid it. The doctor said to her that they really wish the word could get out there about how dangerous it can be for a woman to take Cold FX who has had or currently has cancer or has a family history of cancer. So I just thought I would pass this along to you gals, if you have any friends or family you may want to inform that maybe they should mention to their doctor as well.

Sometimes we don't get all the information just from the label on the bottle.


[TOP]



Beck's Beer Promotion Scam

The scam message shown below claims that the recipient has been awarded the sum of Five Hundred and Fifty Thousand Euros as the winner of a promotion organized by Beck's, a German beer company. However the message was not sent by Beck's. The supposed promotion is an attempt by fraudsters to trick recipients into paying upfront fees to collect their "prize" as well as hand over sensitive personal information that could be used to steal identities.

Scams that offer a fake lottery payout or other prize are very common. The scammers use a variety of tactics to add a patina of legitimacy to their fraudulent operations. They often falsely claim that a well-known company is promoting or endorsing the supposed promotion, in this case, Beck's. Beck's has published a scam warning on its website, which states, in part:
We would like to inform you that we were recently confronted with fraudulent e-mails, sent out in the name of Brauerei Beck. In these e-mails, people maliciously use our company name and the Beck’s beer brand in order to get personal data and even money from you

They pretend to represent the Brauerei Beck and organised a false promotion. They request to complete a questionnaire, attached to the e-mail and falsely drawn up on our company letterhead. Upon receipt of the completed questionnaire, they send a letter confirming that you won a price (again with false letterhead attached). But in order to get this price, you need to pay some amount in advance.
A person who falls for the ruse and responds to the message, is likely to receive several follow-up messages designed to drawn him or her deeper into the scam and reveal personal information. Eventually, he or she will receive a message that asks for fees to be payed to procure the release of the "winnings".

If a victim complies by sending the amount requested in the message, he or she will most probably receive further requests for money, ostensibly for unexpected delivery or banking expenses. The scammers may also continue to request the victim to supply more and more personal information until they have enough to steal his or her identity.

Thus the victim will be left out of pocket and, of course, never receive the supposed prize money, which never existed in the first place. Since the criminals running these scams are usually not in the same country as their victims, it can be very difficult for law enforcement authorities to apprehend and prosecute them. It is unlikely that the victim will ever get his or her money back. To make matters worse, the victim may have his or her identity stolen.

Be very cautious of any unsolicited email, letter or fax that claims you have won money or a prize in a promotion that you never entered.

For more about these sorts of scams see:
Email Lottery Scams - International Lottery Scam Information


References:
WELCOME TO THE BECK'S EXPERIENCE
Email Lottery Scams - International Lottery Scam Information

An example of the scam email:
From: Beck's & Company

Subject: Becks New Year Annual Award ****Congratulations*****


Dear Winner,

This is to inform you of the award of Five Hundred and Fifty Thousand Euro, with Ref Number BBTWYEH267 and Pin Number 84768498 from Beck's Beer Company New Year Promotions. This promotional award aimed at raising the profile of Becks beer consumers males and females aged 18 and above in rural and urban areas.

You have been approved to claim the sum of Five Hundred and Fifty Thousand Euro as one of the winners of this year Beck's Beer Company Annual Christmas Promotions, this online winners email were generated from the World Wide Web, the promotion takes place annually to challenge and to take market share from the popular Dutch import beer.

Your Email Ref Number BBTWYEH267 falls within our European booklet representative's office in United Kingdom. In view of this, your award of Five Hundred and Fifty Thousand Euro will be released to you by our payment office; Our United Kingdom Project Manager will commence the process to facilitate the release of your funds as soon as you contact him.

Find the contact details below;
--------------------------------------------------------
[Name Removed]
Beck's Beer Promotional Officer.
Email: becksbpofficeuk@yahoo.co.uk
Tel: [Removed]

--------------------------------------------------------
[Name Removed]
Beck's Beer Christmas Online coordinator.


This example shows a follow-up email related to the above scam message:
From: Beck's & Company

Subject:Re: Becks New Year Annual Award ****Congratulations*****


Attn:
Your winning cheque has just been issued (PAY TO [Removed], Please confirm the name as written in the cheque of 550,000 euro.

I believe you understand that you will be required to make payment for the cost as adviced below.

(1) Handling and Administrative...97 GBP
(2) Value Added Tax (VAT)..........159 GBP
(3) Cost of Delivery (C.O.D) fedEx....87 GBP
Total............343 GBP.

You are to proceed in making the payment of Three Hundred and Forty Three Great Britain Pounds Sterling Via Western Union Money Transfer as it is the fastest and convenient way my assistance promotional officer Mr. Johnson Moore to pick up the funds and equally go straight to fedEx Courier company to post the certified cheque and winning certificate, you are to make the payment with the details below, dont forget to scan and send me the payment slip as soon as you make the payment.

I believe by now you must be very happy to be amongs this year winners of the Beck's Beer New Year Annual Award, i will advice you proceed to make the payment as soon as you recieve this message so that your package can gets to you 48 hrs after acknowledging the reciept of your payment so that the cheque will be cashed in your account quickly, please find below the payment details, make the payment via WESTERN UNION MONEY TRANSFER of Three Hundred and Forty Three Great Britain Pounds Sterling (343 GBP).

WESTERN UNION MONEY TRANSFER.

Name: [Removed].
Address: London, United Kingdom.

Accept my advice and do as i have instructed so you could get your funds available in your account as our bank will send an urgent release of funds to winners bank, that is to say your cheque will be cleared within 72 hours of deposit, once more find above the payment details to facilitate the transfer of 343 GBP for the HANDLING, ADMINISTRATIVE, VALUE ADDED TAX AND COST OF TRANSFER.

Please you have to understand that the required fee cannot be deducted from your winning funds for the fact that your funds has been insured in a bristish hard insurance policy, it will also be against the norms of the company to deduct from winning prize,this law has just been recently be implemented for the fact that some winners in the recent past disregards and abused the opportunity been given to them to make the payment after recieving their winning cheque, you should equally understand that we the officials is assisting you winners(you) to get your winning prize as our assigned official duty is to pay winners on cash on the listed retails offices in the countries i had made you to understand in my previous mail, therefore the required fee is mandatory by you winners to pay, you will not expect we the officials to use our funds to transfer your cheque and winning certificate to you.

Definately as the Promotional officer is my duty to make sure your cheque gets to you as soon as you make the payment.

Once More congratulations from staff of Beck's Beer Company.


Accordingly,

[Name Removed]
Promotional officer.


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Tampa Bay Beach Sea Monster

Photographs of this strange and ferocious looking creature have been circulating via email and online since mid 2006. The images have generated a lot of discussion. Given that our oceans do indeed harbour some strange and wonderful denizens, many have postulated that the creature might be a deep-sea fish hitherto unknown to science.

In fact, the "creature" is a sculpture by Tampa Bay artist Juan Cabana. Mr Cabana has created an entire menagerie of mermaids, sea monsters and aliens, some of which he offers for sale on eBay under the name "seamystery". This particular "Sea Monster" was the subject of an eBay auction in June 2006. The same photographs that are now circulating were included in the eBay description of the item.

Cabana does not specifically state that his creatures are sculptures in his eBay descriptions. Instead, he creates fictional cover stories to go with the sculptures that include such information as how and where the particular creature was supposedly washed ashore and subsequently discovered. In a Small WORLD PodCast interview, the artist claims that he gives the items a cover story to create excitement about the sale and add an element of fun. He says that he at first made clear in his auction listings that he had actually made the objects but that approach "seemed like it was boring". Adding a story, he says, generates a lot more excitement. He assumes that most potential buyers will understand that the stories are tongue in cheek. Within the context of their original eBay listings, this assumption is not unreasonable. However, when the pictures and stories "escape" into cyberspace and get passed around out of their original context, they are apt to deceive many recipients. It should be noted that the images are taken from the ebay listings and distributed via email without Mr Cabana's permission or knowledge.

Although his works may not be to every body's taste, Cabana really is a talented sculpture. His bizarre but very lifelike creations are quite outstanding. The artist uses a variety of materials including fish and animal skin, animal skulls, steel and plastic.

In September 2006, small WORLD PodCast published an enlightening interview with Juan Cabana in which the artist discusses his work in depth.

References:
Tsunami Deep Sea Creatures Email
The Feejee Mermaid and other Strange Curiosities
Mermaid Gallery
eBay Archive: Mummified SEA MONSTER Corpse Found on Florida Beach
Juan Cabana, Mermaid Sculptor

An example of the email:
Subject: FW: It was found on Tampa Bay beach - what the heck is it?

What to hey?????? How weird is this??????????????????

Tampa Sea Monster Close

Tampa Sea Monster

The email arrives with several other images of the same creature.



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Dropped $5 Bill Serial Killer Warning Email

The following email forward warns that a serial killer may be abducting his female victims by pretending to return a dropped five dollar note. According to the story, the killer tries to trick women into opening their car door or window by claiming they have dropped money after a visit to a nearby service station or shop.

The variant included here is aimed at Australian recipients and includes Australian place names. However, other than the Australian references, the message is virtually identical to US based versions that have been circulating for several years.

The original US version first began circulating in 2002 and 2003 when a real serial killer was operating out of Louisiana. In May 2003 Derrick Todd Lee was arrested as a suspect in the murders. Lee was linked to the deaths of five women in Baton Rouge and Lafayette areas of Louisiana and ultimately received the death penalty. He currently resides on Louisiana State Penitentiary's death row.

Not surprisingly, myths and rumours abounded amid the climate of fear that pervaded Louisiana during the time the killings took place. Fearful citizens were apt to link even minor incidents to the killer. Unsubstantiated encounters and "narrow escape" stories were common. This emailed warning represents one of these unsubstantiated encounters. Even the original version contained no information that would enable a reader to confirm the claims in the story. Moreover, there is nothing in the history of the crimes that indicates Lee used the "dropped $5 bill" tactic described.

Since 2003, a number of mutated versions have emerged, set in different areas of the United States and the world. While the original alluded to a real serial killer, subsequent versions do not. For example, the Australian version included here claims that the serial killer is currently operating in the Sydney area (North Ryde) and that the killer was featured on "Australia's Most Wanted". However, there is no current news reports about a Sydney based serial killer and the "Australia's Most Wanted" program has not been aired on Australian TV since 1999.

Of course, the possibility that the original message described a real incident or even that the "Good Samaritan" really was the killer cannot be dismissed. And it is not impossible that a criminal might use such a "dropped note" tactic to gain access to a victim's vehicle. However, there have been no credible reports of such incidents occurring in any of the places named in the various versions of the message. Even if only a few such incidents had occurred, they would have almost certainly been featured by news and media outlets. The very fact that there are so many versions of the "warning" set in different places indicates that the messages are just being geographically adjusted to suit a particular audience and do not reflect real events in the areas specified.

Certainly, we should protect our personal safety by exercising due caution. And an apparently kind and helpful stranger may indeed have more sinister motives. However, forwarding this bogus warning will only spread unnecessary fear and alarm. It is also likely to have the undesirable effect of wasting the time of police staff who find they must answer endless questions about the message from concerned members of the public.

References:
Derrick Todd Lee, the Baton Rouge Serial Killer - The Crime library

An example of the hoax email:
Subject: FW: new trick for rapists or attackers beware.

Know what money you are carrying! You will see why as you read!

Be sure every lady is aware of this. Share it with your wife and daughters. Know what money you are carrying. This was the first I have heard of a scheme like this.. I wanted to pass it along. Be safe! It is something very serious to pay attention to.

Criminals are coming up with craftier, less threatening methods of attack, so we have to be extra cautious. Read on.

I live near the Blue Mountains but I often work at North Ryde, staying with friends when I'm there. As you know from Australia's Most Wanted TV program, as well as the new media, there is a serial killer in the area. I just want to let you know about an "incident " that happened to me a few weeks ago, and could have been deadly.

At first I didn't go to the police or anyone with it because I didn't realize how serious this encounter was. But since I work in a jail and I told a few people about it, it wasn't long before I was paraded into Internal Affairs to tell them my story.

It was proximately 5:15 a.m. I had stayed with a friend there and was on my way to work. I stopped at the Caltex Station to get petrol. I got $10 petrol and a Diet Coke. I took into the store two $5 bills and one $1 coin (just enough to get my stuff).

As I pulled away from the store, a man approached my truck from the back side of the store (an unlit area). He was an approachable-looking" man (clean cut, clean shaven, dressed well, etc.). He walked up to my window and knocked. Since I'm very paranoid and "always looking for the rapist or killer," I didn't open the window I just asked what he wanted. He raised a $5 bill to my window and said, "You dropped this." Since I knew I had gone into the store with a certain amount of money, I knew I didn't drop it. When I told him it wasn't mine, he began hitting the window and door, screaming at me to open my door, and insisting that I had dropped the money!

At that point, I just drove away as fast as I could. After talking to the Internal Affairs Department and describing the man I saw, and the way he escalated from calm and polite to angry and volatile....it was determined that I could have possibly encountered the serial killer myself.

Up to this point, it had been unclear as to how he had gained access to his victims, since there has been no evidence of forced entry into victim's homes, cars, etc. And the fact that he has been attacking in the daytime, when women are less likely to have their guard up, means he is pretty BOLD.

So think about it...what gesture is nicer than returning money to someone that dropped it?????
How many times would you have opened your window (or door) to get your money and say thank you.... because if the person is kind enough to return something to you, then he can't really be a threat....can he????

Please be cautious! This might not have been the serial killer... but anyone that gets that angry over someone not accepting money from them, can't have honourable intentions. The most important thing to note is that his reaction was! NOT WHAT I EXPECTED! A total surprise! But what might have happened if I had opened my door? I shudder to think!

Forward this to everyone you know...maybe they can be as fortunate as I was!

P.S. Ladies, really DO forward this to EVERYONE you know Even if this wasn't a serial killer, he looked nice, he seemed polite, he was apparently doing an act of kindness, but HE WAS NOT A NICE PERSON!!! Men send it to all the women in your life. What you do today is important because you are exchanging a day of your life for it. Make it a good one! Please forward to anyone you think might benefit from this story.



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Image Spam On The Rise

Reports, and my own experience, indicate that the percentage of image spam hitting inboxes has dramatically increased over the last few months. With this type of spam, the information that the spammer wants you to see is rendered as an image. Because many spam filtering systems cannot easily "read" words within images, image based spam is more likely to get through to your inbox.

Although a lot of image spam is of the stock scam variety, I am now seeing image spam for all kinds of products including the almost ubiquitous Viagra adds. Image based spam is not new, but its apparent "success" means that more and more spammers have now embraced the practise. Some experts claim that image spam may now account for up to 30 percent of all spam. Spammers have also honed their technique so that the new breed of image spam is even more likely to bypass filters than its predecessors. Small, random changes are made to the images for each message sent. The actual size of the image may also be randomized. Although a human may not even notice these minor changes, they can effectively make the image unique as far as a spam filtering system is concerned. The background of the image may contain random squiggles or dots that make it difficult for even sophisticated character recognition software to extract key words. Thus, the spam is able to sneak past.

The spam messages often also include random words or phrases in plain-text along with the images. This random text has no relation to the spam message itself and is designed to further confuse spam filters.

The good news is that anti-spam experts are working on improving spam-filtering procedures to battle this new scourge. In the mean time, there is always the trusty old "Delete" key.

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Fun With Flash - Falling Girl

This addictive little Flash animation game uses excellent ragdoll physics.

Click the link to play
Falling Girl

Enjoy a good laugh?
Read my review of the "That's Comedy! Joke Book"



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The Hoax-Slayer Newsletter is published by:
Brett M.Christensen
Queensland, Australia
All Rights Reserved
©Brett M. Christensen, 2008