Have you ever received an e-mail saying that Bill Gates is sharing his fortune, and all you have to do to receive part of it is to forward the e-mail to as many friends as you can?
You may find it hard to believe, but this e-mail and variants of it have actually been sent out on several occasions, and people have fallen for them. And this is just one example of what internet security specialists call “chain letters”.
Chain letters are messages sent to a huge number of people, asking each recipient to forward them to as many other people as they can. While some of them can be amusing or sent for fun by the original sender, others may carry hidden threats to your internet security – viruses, phishing attempts etc. In any case, the letters are so well written that they actually look authentic and convince you to take the action suggested. Without antivirus protection you can only imagine what can happen to your computer and personal data.
But chain letters are no longer being sent via e-mail only. With the rise of social media, and the increasing number of mobile users, cybercrooks have turned their attention to these means of communication also, thanks to their wider span, their buzz-creating potential, and thus, capacity to generate more victims. So, nowadays, a chain letter may take the form of an e-mail, an instant message, a posting on a friend’s social network profile or a text message. If you learn how to recognize them and what threats they pose, you can go a long way in protecting your internet security, both at home or while mobile.
What does a chain letter look like?
There are various types of chain letters circulating all over web, but they can be divided in five categories depending on the manipulation method they use, to make you do what they ask you to. Because they leverage human emotions, you may easily fall for such internet security scams and have your friends exposed to them too.
- Children in need. They tell a fake story of a sick child who needs to raise money for an expensive operation. They ask you to donate money and share the kid’s story.
- Petitions. The letters may ask you to sign an online petition for a new law sustaining a social cause. You have to submit some personal details and forward the message to other people.
- False warnings. They warn you a virus is circulating over the web, threatening to crash users’ operating systems. They urge you to strengthen your internet security by installing or deleting certain files on/from your system.
- Monetary rewards. They lure you with get-rich-quickly pyramid schemes. You are asked to enrol other people into a scheme, promising you a certain amount of money for each new recipient you add to the chain.
- Urban legends. Examples: Bill Gates shares his fortune if you share the news; Katu Lata Kulu steals your soul if you don’t forward her story to your friends; Carmen Winstead will find you and kill you if you don’t repost/send her story to 10 friends.
- Superstitions. Threaten you with 7 years of bad luck or even physical violence or death if you refuse to re-send the letter to other people.
5 internet security threats and privacy threats posed by chain letters
- E-mail spam. Letters send out by spammers may not be great threats to your internet security, but they may impose on your privacy and that of your friends. Spammers may use chain letters to collect new e-mail addresses and send out advertisements for their products and services – often times, of questionable quality.
- Online fraud. If a chain letter asks you to donate money for charity, the money actually ends up in fraudsters’ accounts.
- Identity theft. Petitions in chain letters spell phishing attacks. Your personal data may be taken and used by fraudsters to perform illicit actions on your behalf. Both your internet security and your physical security can be threatened.
- Virus infections. Chain letters may come with attachments – interesting Power Point presentations, or links to apparently safe sites. But once you open an attachment or click on link, your internet security may be jeopardized by malware and phishing sites.
- Negative impact on children. Some of them can be really scary to children – the death threats accompanying the Katu Lata Kulu and Carmen Winstead chain letters mentioned above are just two examples.
How to avoid these internet security threats and keep yourself, your kids and your friends safe
- The first pointer that it’s a chain letter you are receiving – either from a respected institution or from a friend – is the number of recipients and the request to send the letter to more people. If you receive such a letter, delete it or ignore it.
- Do not fall for great news from wealthy people or big companies that are spreading via e-mail or social networks only. If the news were really true, the entire media, including newspapers, TV, radio etc. would be buzzing with official statements.
- Don’t take letters exploiting superstitions and dark urban legends seriously. Talk to your kids about them and make them feel safe.
- Don’t fall for fake petitions, surveys, or charity donations. If it’s about handing over your personal information and giving away money, verify the recipient first. Do some research and make sure the institution/person who asks you for them is authentic/real.
- Install effective internet security software on your PC that can detect and remove all forms of malware and keep you protected from phishing attacks. Bullguard Internet Security 12 comes with a proactive antivirus engine that detects even the newest forms of malware, an Antiphishing feature that protects you against phishing, a Spamfilter that keeps your inbox clean, in addition to several other security features.