Today I thought I'd put a post about e-mail scams particularly relating to competitions but also a little bit of freebie hunting and reviews too - as always I'd like to point out I am not an expert, that scammers like the flu are forever evolving and changing their tactics and therefore there is always a new scam being cooked up somewhere! Hopefully this will at least help you recognise some of the more common scams.
Firstly, I'd always recommend not using your primary e-mail account for comping or freebie hunting. You can easily make a secondary account at the hundreds of free sites around - personally I would recommend gmail or hotmail over yahoo (just because there is an issue with yahoo e-mails being bounced by some companies running competitions - I have no idea why).
Secondly I would make this e-mail different from your full name, your location or year of birth. So instead of JoeBloggs93@hotmail.com or JoeBLondon@gmail.com I'd use 09PokemonFan@hotmail.com or so on - the reason for this is simply to reduce the ease of a scammer finding out personal information about you from your e-mail or use it to guess your password (it's crazy but people still use their name and dob or location and dob as their password!).
You receive an e-mail saying:
This e-mail address has been chosen as a possible winner in xxx sweepstakes /competition / to review a dazzlingly expensive product.
Click the link to see if you are our winner/our chosen product tester
The e-mail will have some variation of the text above. It might have flashing lights or a big bold red box, sparkly arrows or whatever all pointing to a link. Normally the link is a masked URL and the text will not often include the website name or address
Click "HERE" to see if your a winner - with the HERE being a clickable link.
This is going to be a scam - the link will take you to either:
1. an information harvesting page where you will be asked to complete some personal details in order to claim your item - your details will then join a list which will be sold on to third parties and others so you can be bombarded with SPAM and you will find out your not actually a winner at this time or you will be invited to increase your chances to win by signing up for even more offers and junk.
2. as above but also asks you to sign up to various offers / companies in order to validate your entry - this not only information harvesting for the company but earning through affiliation links too - a bonus for them as it earns them money
Another variation of this e-mail is the following 3 people have been chosen to win - and it will list 3 names normally with yours in the middle - same process of click the link to see if you have won as above (in case your wondering how do they know my name? You have probably at some point signed up on a site as per number 1 above who have marked you down as a sucker and sold your details on to their spammy mates so they can spam you too - isnt that nice?)
3. If your really unlucky the link will take you to a page rife with malware/spyware which will be downloaded onto your computer - leaving you open to all sorts of nasties!
4. If you open on a mobile you may be taken to a page full of pop ups saying that your system is going to crash, your ID is being stolen and all sorts of other alarmist crap with a 'download now' or 'click here' to fix the problem - again that's a whole world of nasty you don't want to touch.
The point of this is:
DO NOT CLICK ON THE LINK - DO NOT REPLY TO THE E-MAIL - DELETE IT
Pretty much all e-mail comp/review scams follow the above.
If it is a genuine win/product review offer it will:
1. come from an e-mail address with the companies domain name or from a PR company. A simple google of the domain name should let you see if it's a real company or not. A google of the full e-mail address or the persons name and company can also help you identify known scams - there are literally hundreds of people and sites out there dedicated to stopping scammers and people do post these details online - it takes 2 seconds to check!
NB people can 'mask' their e-mail address to make it look like it's coming from a specific person - this is more prevalent on paypal refund / bank access scams - however you can check this by hitting reply and double clicking on the email address to see the full address (just hitting reply doesn't work as it shows the address / name given by the scammer rather than the actual address).
2. Should contain full contact details for the person/ company - usually in their signature. This may not be true for smaller companies or bloggers but at the least they will usually include a link back to their website/blog.
3. Contain specific details about the comp / prize which you can google to find the original competition (or if you use mse or one of the competition sites search to find in the expired comps section). If you can find literally no details of the comp or prize then its unlikely to be real.
4. Usually ask you to reply to the e-mail with your details or call them rather than directing you to click on a link (and generally they will not expect you to fill in an attachment either - if the e-mail comes with an attachment unless your certain where it is from don't open it)
(again there may be some companies that have you follow a link but in my experience they generally don't - an exception to this might be if you are getting an item to review and the company sends you a code/e-voucher to use on their website or to use on another site such as amazon to get the item for free)
5. Not ask for payment
The exception to this will be if:
- the company has specified that p&p or fitting is not included or it is for a holiday or similar where you have asked to make changes to the specified prize which they have allowed but at an additional cost e.g. upgrading a room or if the prize is for 2 people adding an extra person to the booking.
It all sounds like pretty much common sense but scammers are good at what they do - whilst we all know the laughable charitable good Dr from Narobi who has been entrusted with $25 million us dollars that he wishes to share with us is written in awful English is completely fake, a well written and designed e-mail can actually sucker us in!
If in doubt - check it out!
Seriously, google it, ask in comping groups, ask on forums, ask on FB, ask your comping friends - there are sites and people who dedicate a large portion of their time to sniffing these scams out so make use of their hard work and keep your e-mail and personal details safe.
Comments and suggestions for improvements of my posts are always welcome - unless they are about my shitty grammar or writing style which could be improved on but wont be