Thursday, May 04, 2006

Beware of Brand Spammers

Have you ever wondered how legitimate those *Gift Card* offers are that you receive by email? You know, the ones that say 'You've Won A $500 Gift Card' and it's always from a top name, highly recognized Company.

I remember one time clicking on one those links. I didn't think I was ever going to get off that site. I came to the conclusion, if it takes all this to get the Gift Card, they can keep it! I really became skeptical because of the amount of personal information the site wanted me to provide. Regretfully, I had provided my email address when I began the process. Needless to say, it was a pain in the (you know what) to finally stop a slew of spam emails I received.

There was an article in April 2006 Issue of Business Week that weighed in on this very same topic on the magazine's UPFront page. Just in case you missed it - Here it is.

WAL-MART, HOME DEPOT, STARBUCKS. The names attract millions of shoppers-and those who dwell in the ever-evolving world of computer fraud. Computer security firms are warning about a spate of *brand spam*, e-mails promising a *$500 shopping card* at Wal-mart or a *$500 Home Depot Gift Card*. The offer which use company names and logos without permission, require users to click on a link, type in personal data, and take a survey. Presto! The site says the gift will be mailed.

The offers are, of course too good to be true. "They are using the brand name to add credibility," says Joel Smith, chief technology officer at AppRiver, an email security firm. Smith estimates that of the 500 e-mails per second his firm filters, brand spam offers account for about 3%. Most have complicated user agreements requiring consumers to take additional steps before getting a gift, such as signing up six others for the promo. It's unlikely, Smith says, that anyone ever receives the gift.

Like phishers trying to steal credit-card numbers, brand spammers are trolling for consumers' email addresses and preferences. The reason? To sell the data to other spammers. Soon after signing up for one of these offers a user gets spam for obscure lotteries or *free* movie tickets.

Wal-Mart spokesman Martin Heires says the company is warning consumers that it never offers freebies over the Internet. Home Depot says it has worked with law enforcement to shutter sites using its logo. Starbuck says it is aware of the Starbucks *offer* which is "definitely not a Starbucks project."
- Brian Grow

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Christine Range