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Issue 24 - Hoax-Slayer Newsletter

Issue 24: 21st May, 2004

This week in Hoax-Slayer:
Read Previous Issues


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.

As soon as the newsletter is published each month, subscribers are sent a notification email with a direct link to the latest issue. The Hoax-Slayer Newsletter is absolutely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time either by following a link in the notification email or visiting the Hoax-Slayer Unsubscribe page.

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US Bank Phishing Scam

Like a number of other major financial institutions, the US bank is once again the target of phishing scammers. Emails supposedly from the US bank claim that customers need to update their accounts "due to inactive members, frauds and spoof reports". A link in the email leads to a fraudulent website that asks for sensitive personal and banking information. Although such websites may look like an official bank site, they are in fact created by scammers solely to trick people into providing personal information. The scam email reproduced below is just one example in a long line of similar emails that have targeted US Bank.

US bank has more information and reporting procedures regarding these fraudulent emails on their website.

Another popular target for phishing scammers is Citibank.

Read more information about phishing scams in general.



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Sundarbans Ghost Hoax Email

This chain letter was circulating briskly late last year, but it appears to be gaining momentum once again.

The email attempts to re-enforce a typical chain letter message by attaching a "ghost" photograph. Like many chain letters, the email promises good luck for those who forward the message and bad luck for those who don't. Given that the image of the "ghost" has appeared on the Internet before in completely different contexts, it is not hard to work out that the picture is a computer-generated forgery.

The photograph was supposedly taken in the Sundarbans, which is a National Park in Bangladesh. Earlier in 2003, India's Thanthi newspaper published the smiling "ghost" picture, causing fear and alarm among residents of Tiruchi. The article falsely reported that the boy in the photograph had slipped into a coma after viewing the picture. The same image appears in another "ghost photo" featured on the Castle of Spirits website.

Although the photo is clearly a fake, it is rather scary!

Reference

Subject: Fw: Read before u view the picture - Believe it not

The guy in the photo went to the Sundarbans with his friends and he asked 1 of his friends to take his picture in that very place. While his friend was taking the picture he screamed and fainted, 2 days later he died in the medical college. Doctors said he died because of heart attack.

When the photos were exposed, in the last photo there was a lady standing right beside him though friends claim that he was standing alone.

Many people said it is a rumor and the picture is the result of the blessings of latest technology. However, the photo itself is very scary and I'm sure you'll also feel the same way I've felt. Here you go with the photo!!!

A navy officer sent this letter to 13 people and he was promoted.. A business man received this letter and threw it away..not believing in it.. and he lost everything he had within 13 days.. It reached a labourer and he distributed it to 13 people.. he was promoted and all his problems were solved within 13 days.. So you must send this e mail to 13 people for something good to happen to you so people..get sending !! :) don't be lazy.. P/S : Do not send back to the person who send this to you!!!

Ghostly Girl
[Click image for full size view]




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Bonsai Kittens Email Petition

Summary:
Email exhorts recipients to sign and forward a message protesting the practise of creating "bonsai kittens" by placing cats in class jars to restrict their growth (Full commentary below.)



Status:
Pointless! Nobody is making bonsai kittens.

Example:(Submitted, 2004)
FOR EVERYONE WHO LOVES ANIMALS

There is a Japanese man living in New York that sells "BONSAI CATS".

The guy puts the kittens in glass bottle then puts a probe in their anus that gets out from a gap in the bottle to dispense their urine and faeces. For the kittens to take the bottle shape, they are fed with chemicals to melt the bones. Then he keeps the cats for as long as they can survive.

They can't move, walk or clean up.

He calls this "art".

This cruelty is the last fashion in NYC, China, Indonesia, New Zeland, because is a "decoration pet". If you want more information take a look in this site : http://www.shorty.com/bonsaikitten/bkmethod.html, and the babies into of a glass bottle in http://www.shorty.com/bonsaikitten/gray.html and http://www.shorty.com/bonsaikitten/bnw.html

We are making a list to sent to Animals Protection Association n USA and Mexico, and to TV news, to stop this.

We call out to anybody that loves cats or just has basic respect for LIFE - please put your name in the end of this list, then forward this e-mail to anyone you can think of.

If in the list you find more than 500 names, please send a copy to [ADDRESS REMOVED]

We are very thankfull to your help and we ask you to send this e-mail.


Commentary:
There a probably few sites on the Internet that have spawned more hatred and condemnation than the Bonsai Kittens website. The site supposedly provides information about how to create "bonsai kittens" by cramming cats into class jars so that they grow to take on the shape of the jar. Information on the website notes:
By physically constraining the growth of a developing living thing, it can be directed to take the shape of the vessel that constrains it. Just as a topiary gardener produces bushes that take the forms of animals or any other thing, you no longer need be satisfied with a housepet having the same mundane shape as all other members of its species.
For years, email chain letters condemning the procedure as unconscionably cruel and calling for the closure of the site have continually made their way around the inboxes of the world. The infamous site even drew the attention of the FBI. A 2001 report on Wired.com notes:
FBI agents in the Boston field office have launched an investigation into the site. They also have served MIT with a grand jury subpoena asking for "any and all subscriber information" about the site, which was initially hosted in a campus dormitory but has since moved to a commercial provider. MIT said in a letter to bonsaikitten.com's pseudonymous webmaster, a graduate student using the alias Dr. Michael Wong Chang, that it will wait until Sunday to turn over records that would identify him by name. "I was surprised," Chang said. "I really thought that the FBI had better things to do. That's your tax dollars at work."
Of course, this widespread condemnation and anger is not at all surprising. If it were actually real, the act of creating bonsai kittens would constitute criminal cruelty to animals. But, in reality, the website is nothing more than an ill-conceived and incredibly tasteless joke apparently perpetrated by an MIT student. The techniques described are clearly impossible, and are certainly not being carried out as described. Moreover, the site does not actually sell equipment used to create bonsai kittens, nor has it ever done so. The apparent advertisement of bonsai kittens products included on the site are entirely bogus and intended only to further the illusion that the techniques described are real. An article on the Humane Society of the United States website notes:
The Massachusetts SPCA and the FBI initiated an investigation of the site's creator, but discovered no evidence of actual animal abuse or the sale of bonsai kitten "products," though the investigation remains active. If the creator is not e-mailing the obscene materials to an unwilling audience, violating a User's Agreement, committing the abuse depicted on site, or actually selling products involving animal cruelty, then the site is considered free speech and is protected by the First Amendment.
As with other satirical websites, there are no overt statements or disclaimers on the Bonsai Kittens website that specifically inform visitors that its claims are not intended to be taken seriously. Hence, after visiting the site, many people believe that bonsai kittens really are being created and are consequently outraged.

However, a closer examination of the site content soon reveals a number of tongue-in-cheek references that indicate the satirical nature of the information. For example, the site claims that those who wish to create bonsai kittens need to apply for and receive a "Bonsai Kitticulture" permit from the U.S. government. This claim is clearly nonsense and no such permit system exists. In another section, the site claims that young kittens have "springy" bones and will bounce when thrown on the floor. Again, this is obviously total nonsense. And a series of nonsensical entries in a fake "Guest Book" included on the site provide further evidence that the site is a hoax. These entries include outlandish "praise" of the site as well as absurd comments about creating bonsai boyfriends, children and horses.

Although there are photographs of cats on the site, they do not show a "finished" bonsai kitten. Instead, they depict cats in or behind unsealed jars. It appears that the defenceless animals in the pictures were thrust into jars and otherwise manipulated to create the desired images. This is cruel enough even if there was no intention to seal the jars and create bonsai cats. Also, some sick individuals might be moved to actually try the procedures outlined on the site.

The site itself has apparently moved locations several times during its history and been banned by several hosting providers. The domain name used in some versions of the petition emails, www.bonsaikitten.com, now leads to an advertising portal that has no relation to the original Bonsai Kittens website. At the time of writing, a mirror of the original website was available on Shorty.com.

Clever satire certainly has its place. But there is nothing remotely clever or funny about a website that uses potential animal cruelty as the foundation for its satire, even if no kittens were actually harmed. However, even if you do think the site is in such poor taste that it should be eradicated from the Internet once and for all, "signing" and forwarding an email petition on the subject is quite unlikely to achieve your aim. Email petitions are essentially ineffective, especially if the information they contain is erroneous, outdated or misleading, as is the case with the bonsai kittens email. In fact, there are a number of significant problems with email-based petitions that render them virtually useless

Ironically, forwarding the email is more likely to keep the site operational than help to shut it down. The furore caused by the site content, and the free promotion provided by the constant circulation of thousands of petition emails means that the site most probably gets a constant stream of visitors. Its continued notoriety is likely to encourage its misguided perpetrator to continue to keep the site active and online rather than remove it. The Humane Society article notes:
Please do not e-mail or otherwise contact the person running the site. The negative attention he's received has fueled the posting of the site in several locations and the formation of a group of supporters.
The article also contains information about more effective methods of registering protest against the bonsai kittens website and other sites that promote animal cruelty.

Another version of the petition:
FOR EVERYONE WHO LOVES ANIMALS!!

This is sick.

A site that we were able to shut last year has returned. We have to try to shut it down again! A Japanese man in New York breeds and sells kittens that are called BONSAI CATS. That would sound cute, if it weren't kittens that were put in to little bottles after being given a muscle relaxant and then locked up for the rest of their lives. The cats are fed through a straw and have a small tube for their feaces.

The skeleton of the cat will take on the form of the bottle as the kitten grows. The cats never get the opportunity to move. They are used as original and exclusive souvenirs. These are the latest trends in New York, China, Indonesia and New Zealand. If you think you can handle it, view www.bonsaikitten.com and have a look at the methods being used to put these little kittens into bottles.

This petition needs 500 names, so please put your one name on it!!! Copy the text into a new email and put your name on the bottom, then send it to everyone you know. If you notice that there are 500 names on the list, please send it to: [ADDRESS REMOVED] Note- Copy this e-mail, paste it into a new one - DON'T forward it - add your name, and send it to everyone you know!

References:
FBI Goes After Bonsaikitten.com
Humane Society: Bonsai Kitten Web Site Bonsai Kitten Mirror
Are Email Petitions Useful?


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Virus Report: Weekly Virus Wrap-Up

The list below represents some of the most significant new virus threats identified by Symantec Security Response over the last few days.

W32.Mydoom.K@mm is a mass-mailing worm that sends itself to email addresses it finds on the infected machine. The email message carrying the worm will be one of the following:

The message may also be blank or consist of random characters.

W32.Gaobot.ALU is a worm that allows attackers to access an infected computer. It can terminate the processes of antivirus and security applications. It exploits vulnerabilities in Windows 2000, Windows NT, Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP.

W32.Bobax.A and W32.Bobax.D exploit the LSASS vulnerability on unpatched Windows XP systems. Unpatched systems should be updated as soon as possible.



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Don't Buy from Spammers

Email is one of the most useful forms of communication that humans have yet devised. However, the value of email is being steadily eroded by the increasing amount of spam that is cluttering our inboxes. So why is spam increasing? Unfortunately, the simple answer is "Because it WORKS!"

Every time someone buys a product or service advertised in a spam email or even clicks on a spam link, the spammers reap the benefits. If nobody ever responded to spam, the problem would go away. Yes, I know that's a somewhat simplistic, and self evident, analysis of a complex problem, but it is fundamentally correct.

Obviously, there is always going to be those who buy from spammers and there is little we can do about it. However, as individuals, we can make sure that we don't make the problem worse by following a simple policy.

If nothing else, by following this policy I at least have the satisfaction of knowing that not one grubby little spammer is ever going to get a single cent from me.



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Tip of the Week: Assigning Keyboard Shortcuts

For many programs, you can easily assign your own keyboard shortcuts.

  1. Right click on the program's desktop shortcut icon and select "Properties".

  2. In the Shortcut Key box, enter the key of your choice, for example: "Z"

  3. Windows will automatically add the extra key sequence needed, for example: "Ctrl + Alt".

  4. Now you can run the program directly from the keyboard by keying "Ctrl + Alt + Z". Using keyboard shortcuts means there is no need to minimize open windows in order to run a program.

Note: If you use one of the F keys instead of a letter, you can achieve one key shortcuts! However, be aware that this may conflict with an existing function for that key. For instance, you could use the F1 key, but this will mean that F1 will no longer open Windows Help. (You could still open "Help" via the Start Menu).



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Feedback from Readers and Site Visitors

If you receive a hoax or scam email, I would appreciate it if you would send me a copy.

This week, I've received a large number of lottery scam email, both from readers and direct from the scammers. I have put more information and examples about lottery scams on the Hoax-Slayer site.

A number of submissions involved phisher scam emails targeting the US Bank, Citibank and others.

The Swiffer Pet Death Hoax was again a popular topic for submissions this week.

Speaking of the Swiffer hoax, one reader mentioned that she had heard of a similar email that targeted another cleaning product, Simple Green. If you have received the Simple Green version, I'd appreciate it if you would send me a copy.

Once again, thank you for your submissions!



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The Hoax_Slayer Newsletter is published by:
Brett M.Christensen
Queensland, Australia
All Rights Reserved
©Brett M. Christensen, 2009
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