Five Email (and Snail Mail) Web Scams to Avoid
Today’s post was inspired by a paper letter I received early last year from a company that was trying to convince me that I owed them $180 for the cost of hosting my website.
I host my website and many others, so naturally I did not fall for their scam, but I found the letter so alarming that I thought it was worth spreading the word and warning others about the scam. I initially sent this out as a newsletter last spring, and, spurred by the knowledge that the letter scam is still operating, I decided to republish this post today.
Here are five different scams that have crossed my desk.
The “YourWebsite.com is about to expire” Scam
One type of scam email that I frequently find in my spam folder is from scammers who are trying to convince me that I owe them money for the renewal of some type of service. The scammers usually pretend to be the company I registered the domain with, and the email will usually be framed as a helpful reminder.
Sometimes they will have a message like:
Your Domain SEO-listing shown below are set for renewal and need to be processed in the next 48 hours. No worry, please click on this link and follow the instructions.
If you get an email like this, delete the email. Then go visit the site where you registered your website’s domain, and make sure that all your fees are up to date. It’s better to be safe than sorry, but whatever you do, don’t click on a link in the suspect email.
The “Main Street Web Pros” Scam
There are companies who will send you fake bills in an attempt to convince you that you owe them money for a service they are not providing.
For example, on 19 February 2019, I got a paper letter from a Florida-based web design firm called “Main Street Web Pros”. The letter closely resembled a bill, and was designed to make me think MSWP hosted my website, and that I owed them $180 for this service.
I have never done business with this firm before nor have I heard their name, but after looking online I found that MSWP does have a rather sparsely filled out website. Their online presence provides a veneer of legitimacy, but it is really just a cover for the scam letters they send in the mail.
This company has tried to convince at least two other people I know of that we ow MSWP money for their services.
I got one of these today to my now closed design firm. It's a total disgrace that any company thinks it's okay to do this. I've seen similar scams from domain registrars, but this is the first hosting one I've seen.
— George T. Probst ? (@GeorgeProbst) February 18, 2019
If you get a letter like this, the best thing to do is contact the USPS by visiting the U.S. Postal Service Inspection website, or by calling 1-800-275-8777. You will need to give the investigator information from the letter so that the scammer can be prosecuted.
You might also report this scam to your state’s consumer fraud protection service.
The “Domain Notification for YourWebsite.com” Scam
Another type of scam email that I get all the time is from scammers who try to sell me a worthless “domain listing” service. This time the scammer doesn’t try to convince me they are a company I already do business with, but they are selling me a worthless service.
The emails frequently read something like:
Attn: Nathaniel Hoffelder As a courtesy to domain name holders, we are sending you this notification for your business Domain name search engine registration. This letter is to inform you that it’s time to send in your registration.
Failure to complete your Domain name search engine registration by the expiration date may result in cancellation of this offer making it difficult for your customers to locate you on the web.
If you get one of these emails, just go ahead and delete it. The service they are selling you is worthless, and you have better ways to spend your money.
The "We Can fix Your Website SEO" Scam
I always get a giggle when I get one of these scam emails.
If you own a website domain long enough you are bound to get an email from random companies that claim they can skyrocket your site to first place in Google. (Others will claim they already did, and demand payment.)
The thing about this scam is that if the company really could do what they say then they would be charging tens of thousands of dollars for their service, not $149 or whatever they asked from you. SEO is a huge industry, and there are some legitimate companies who really do know how to put a company at the top of Google’s search results.The thing is, those companies don’t send blind emails to random website owners; they have customers beating down their door – customers will pay a lot more for SEO services than you can afford.
The only SEO companies who send blind emails are cheats who will take your money and run, and the crooks who will use blackhat SEO tricks.
You are better off avoiding both.
The “We recorded you watching Porn” Scam
This scam is my favorite.
Every so often I get an email that claims I was tricked into installing malware on my computer the last time I visited a porn site. The email claims that the malware captured a recording from my webcam that showed, well, you get the idea.
The email is usually written in semi-literate technical gibberish and ends with a blackmail threat along thelines of if I send the scammer $500 in Bitcoin, they won’t release the video of me doing you know what.
If you get this email, just delete it – I always do.
The thing about these emails is that it comes in two flavors, neither of which are convincing. One type is sent to randomly generated email addresses – I have in fact gotten the emails via email addresses that don’t exist (they show up in the “undeliverable” folder on my email server).The other slightly more clever type is sent by a scammer who found your email and password in one of the security breach tracking sites – the scammer included those details in the hopes you would be folled into falling for the scam.
The scammer doesn’t actually have an incriminating video; instead, the scammer is counting on a few gullible victims falling for the lies in the email.
If you are really concerned, ask for proof. The scammer won’t have any, and they may not even bother to respond. In fact, there won’t actually be a way to contact the scammer!
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Have you gotten a scam email not mentioned above? Let me know in the comments!
Kay Coyte June 11, 2020 um 11:07 am
I got the "do me a favor" email and it almost hit the sweet spot of distraction that might have convinced me to interact with it. Started with the classic general "Hi" or "Good morning" subject line. The sender’s email was an older hacked one. It had my friend’s name, but came from, say, yahoo, instead of gmail. If I’d looked closely at the email header, I would have noticed that the 'reply-to' was her name again, directed to a suspicious and possibly foreign website. I was traveling out of the country and having spotty internet service. First email was to establish contact with a bland request — are you home? are you receiving this? So I replied. But the second email was a dead giveaway. The "friend" needed to give money to a niece — could I get a gift card, etc.
I happen to write a monthly Consumer Tip item for author Patricia McLinn’s newsletter and I knew exactly what this was. I let the scammer know — he/she already had my email — and that was the end of it. And, of course, let my friend know.
The "do me a favor" scam works because millions are sent and a few take the bait. Scammers use publicly visible business email addresses to hook co-workers or addresses from church websites to hoodwink church members. You’d want to help your boss, right? Or the assistant pastor who needs money for a cause?
Scammers are the lowest form of scum on earth.