Sunday, 20 February 2011


Hotmail has a fairly good spam filter, which captures the majority of spam whilst only getting a few false positives (i.e. characterising 'good' emails as spam).

I like to carefully go through my spam inbox to check for non-spam messages. Today, amongst the usual viagra and other spam saying that I need to 'enhance' my manhood, there is a message called 'Tax Refund Notification'. It appears to be from an HM Revenue and Customs email address, and the image looks official. It is the fourth time I have received this message, always claiming that I am due a refund of £468.50.

Of course it is spam. There are some obvious signs: a poorly-designed link to click on that goes to a website 'balearicproperty' instead of HM Revenue along with a couple of spelling mistakes, including lack of punctuation and full stops. The character set is also Cyrillic, which would be unusual for a British Government address.

The reason I mention this is that it is one of the more believable spam emails I have seen. The image and accurate 'from' addresses are things that would initially take people in, along with the greed of receiving a refund. Worryingly, if they were to take away the spelling and other mistakes, make the target link address more believable and add a great deal of official-looking small print, they would catch far more people.

I am not stupid enough to say that I will never be taken in by spam and other scams - all it needs is for someone to push the right buttons for greed and flattery to overcome my innate paranoia. But by examining spam message in this manner I learn to be more cautious.

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