Financial Fraud Spam Spikes

ByErik Larkin
January 14, 2009, 2:48 PM

— -- Expect to see more of those 419 Nigerian and "You won the UK National Lottery!" bogus e-mails that prey on the especially gullible. MessageLabs, an e-mail security company now owned by Symantec, reports that the amount of such e-mail it's seeing is jumping.

The company says that from January 1st through the 7th this year, that garbage comprised 10.2 percent of all e-mail it saw. That's more than triple the 3.1 percent rate for Jan. 1-15th (a longer period) last year.

The lead-in period saw a spike also, though not as high. From Dec. 20-31 of '08 it was 4.2 percent, compared to 2.0 percent in '07.

Sounds like a threat, but if you're actually taking the time to read security news like this online, then I can confidently say you're not going to fall for this crap. Here's an example of the spam MessageLabs is seeing:

Dear Email Owner

This is to inform you that you have just won a cash price [sic] of £552,000.00 in the UK National e-Lottery Online Sweepstakes you are to contact the online claims agent.

There's more to back up the idea that most of us can and do just laugh at such poorly crafted fraud. I recently read about a fascinating experiment from academics who infiltrated underground spam networks and were able to analyze the number of sent-out messages that actually snared someone. The report found that only 1 in 12,500,000 sent pieces of spam lured someone to a fradulent site.

Much of that low rate was due to good spam blocking tools that kept the vast majority from ever reaching inboxes, but I'd like to believe it's also due to the majority of us knowing that a message telling us we just won some random overseas lottery is not real.

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