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The Danger of E-Cards ... What to Beware of Before You Open E-Greeting Cards!

About 500 million e-cards (electronic cards) were sent worldwide in 2007, according to the Greeting Card Association. All of these were legitimate messages of "Happy Birthday," "Happy Thanksgiving," and a myriad of other "just to say hi" greetings.

gift cards

If you receive an e-greeting that says it's from "a friend," you should immediately delete it -- it's probably spam. However, if the e-mail has your friend's name on it, then it is probably safe. For instance, Sixwise can send, at your request, over 100 free, personal gift certificates that make great gifts, along with a $20 coupon, to any friend you wish. The e-mail will ALWAYS state your name as the sender, so it is completely verifiable.

However, countless others have been sent with a much more malicious intent.

You receive an e-greeting that appears to come from a friend, but when you open it, you download malware (malicious software) onto your computer that can destroy your files and even threaten your identity.

These fraudulent e-cards became so widespread over the summer that the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center sent out a public warning about the e-greeting card scams described below.

Now that the holidays are upon us, you must use even more caution when opening e-cards from your friends and family, as scammers will play on your holiday spirit to get you to open the card.

"It's all a matter of social engineering," says Nick Newman, a computer crime specialist at the National White Collar Crime Center in The Christian Science Monitor. "Since people are expecting to receive cards around Christmas, spammers take advantage of it."

The most common e-card scams work like this:

The card appears to be from a family member or friend.

However, it actually came from a spammer and contains malware. The e-card directs you to click on a provided link to view the card, but you are taken instead to a malicious Web page, which may ask you for personal information.

In another scam, the e-card looks like it came from Hallmark, and bears the company's logo and even has working links to their site. However, when you click the link to see the card a program is downloaded onto your computer the makes it vulnerable to hackers (who can then steal any and all of your personal information).

gift cards

If your e-greeting has a verification code, you can go directly to the card's Web site, enter the code, and view your greeting directly (without any risk of fraud!).

Of particular concern this year is Storm Worm, a malicious software being spread through phony e-greetings. These typically direct you to another Web site that can lead you to download the program onto your computer. Once you do that, your computer can be remotely programmed to shut down Internet sites, send out spam and spread the Worm to others.

"We're seeing a tremendous amount of volume related to the threat of the Storm Worm being sent within e-cards," said Mike Haro, senior analyst with security software firm Sophos, in The Gazette.

How to Avoid Getting Scammed

Fortunately, you can protect yourself from phony e-greetings by following these tips:

  • Only open cards from people you know. If it says only "From a friend," "a secret admirer," or from a name you don't know, it's probably spam.

  • Check for a verification code. Many of the large e-card companies include numbers with their cards that allow you to go directly to their Web site to download your card. This way, you can go right to the greeting card site without having to click on anything from your e-mail.

  • Never open cards with errors. Fraudulent e-cards may include misspelled words or other errors (such as saying you sent a card, rather than received one).

  • Do not download anything or click on any links or attachments in suspicious e-mails.

  • Don't click to "accept terms" without reading the fine print. Some scams will include a term to access your address book and send messages to everyone on your list.

  • If in doubt, delete the card. If you suspect it MAY be from a friend, call your friend and find out if he or she sent you a card.

Recommended Reading

Ransomware: The New Dangerous -- and Highly Offensive -- Computer Scam to Watch Out For

Don't Get Caught by Phishing Scams on the Internet!

FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center December 13, 2007

The Montreal Gazette

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