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Frank Gray

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Businesses, watch for email scam, bogus BBB

I received an email the other day supposedly from the Better Business Bureau notifying me that one of my customers had filed a complaint against me. The message included a copy of the complaint, and I was urged to open the complaint and reply.

The email didn’t bother me much. When people are unhappy with me, they usually call me, not the Better Business Bureau. I’m not personally a member of the BBB, anyway.

One other thing looked peculiar about the email, though. I got it about 9:30 in the morning, but on the top, just below the Better Business Bureau’s name and some slogan, was a line saying that the email had been sent at 3:30 that afternoon.

That’s quite a trick, I thought, finding a way to get an email to me six hours before it was sent.

Of course all this meant that the email was sent by someone who was in a time zone six hours different from mine, someone in Norway, Sweden, Albania or – surprise – Nigeria.

I called the local BBB to ask them whether it was aware someone was sending out emails under its name.

Oh, yes, said Marjorie Stephens, director of marketplace services for the local BBB. It’s been going on for more than a year. Businesses and consumers have been getting the emails, and the BBB has sent out alerts concerning the bogus messages.

The danger in the email is that people who open the attachment will have their computer infected by a malicious virus – spyware that will infect your computer and any computer you are linked to.

“We’ve let people know, don’t open the link,” or the attachment, on the email, Stephens said. Once your computer is infected with spyware, the people who sent the email will be able to track your activities and learn things such as your bank account numbers, credit card numbers, Social Security number – anything that you enter into your computer.

Stephens knows that plenty of area businesses have received similar emails because they’ve called the BBB to ask what’s going on.

“It’s really critical” that people learn not to open attachments or links on emails unless they are certain who sent the message, Stephens said.

The BBB doesn’t feel picked on. Similar emails go out using the names of the FBI, or other reputable organizations and businesses.

“It’s frustrating. It’s very annoying,” Stephens said. “Businesses that do get the emails are not opening it (the attachment).”

At least not as far as Stephens knows.

Actually, small businesses might represent good targets for such scams. Business owners are busy and may not scrutinize an email carefully. Some might instinctively open the attachment out of concern that someone might be saying something that will tarnish its reputation.

The scams aren’t going to go away, either, Stephens said.

“It’s only going to get worse,” she said.

As a result, the BBB is changing some of the advice it gives people.

For example, thousands of people in this area alone have heard of “Rachel with Cardholder Services.” She’s the recorded voice that suggests people might have problems with their credit cards and asks them to press 1 to speak to a human. It’s all a ploy – and an illegal one – to con people out of money.

The BBB used to tell people to ask that they never be called back. That doesn’t work. If you press 1, your phone number will end up on a hot list, and you’ll get more calls than ever.

These calls are all illegal, so asking not to be called back won’t work. Just hang up, the BBB now advises people.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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