Losing your Internet innocence

The Internet is a wonderful idea - the free exchange of information available to all who have access.  The "reality" is something else. Here is a list of problem areas:

Viruses, Worms, and Trojans

This category includes code capable of reproducing and propagating over the internet.

All three may have "payloads".  A payload is code which performs undesirable functions.  Destructive payloads may range from changing settings to completely erasing the hard disk. Non-destructive payloads may consist of informational messages or messages to promote some cause.  Trojans are usually passed around by innocent people who see "the pretty horse" but are unaware of the possibly destructive side effect. Worms and Trojans may collect private sensitive information, including passwords, financial data, and anything else that my be on an infected computer, and transmit that data to a collection point.

If you are warned about a virus, check it out before passing the warning on, because many virus warnings are frauds.

Frauds, scams, and phishing

Frauds and scams have been around as long as people - perhaps even longer if you consider some of the techniques used by some predators in the wild. (The snapping turtle has what looks like a worm on its tongue; it lies buried in the mud with its mouth open wiggling the worm like appendage until an innocent fish comes too close.  With one gulp the victim is swallowed.)  The Internet is just another place for not-so-nice people to ply their trade. The most common fraud activity now-a-days is what is called "phishing expeditions".  A phishing email pretends that it is coming from your bank or some place where you may have an account.  It asks you to click on a link and verify your account and password, and it may even ask you for your social security number. These are very sophisticated, and they look genuine, but they are frauds.  A look at the link they ask you to click on will often show a number as part of the link. Here is an actual example I got in the mail. The box with the Address: is the popup that appeared when I held my mouse over the link.  Notice that it is definitely not the same as the one that is showing. The one showing will usually be correct for the bank. but if you click on the link, you will be taken to the one in the box.  The scammers make the page you get to look exactly like the Bank's own page, but this fake look-alike page is just there to get your login name and password.

All such emails are attempts to gain personal information to enable the perpetrator to steal your identity.  Account providers NEVER send such emails.  EVERY ONE you see is a fraud.  A legitimate message of this type will tell you to log into your account, but it will not provide a link to do so. Forward such messages to uce@ftt.govMore information.

The old pyramid scheme chain-letter found a home on the internet.  It's newest incarnation is the so-called MLM or multi-level-marketing scheme.  In all these pyramid schemes a few people at the top may get some riches, but it is always at the expense of the people lower in the pyramid.  These schemes all work by appealing to a combination of greed and laziness.  They promise quick riches or easy profits with minimum work.  If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is not true.  Always check such things out at HoaxBusters.


In one sense, the Internet is just a medium of communication.  There is nothing special about it that makes the information it carries any more accurate than any other medium.  Newspapers, radio, and television are "regulated" (in some countries) to protect the public against outright lies in advertising. But the Internet is international, and it is largely unregulated in this regard. As a result, it is full of misinformation, including things people believe that are not true, as well as things that people believe that cannot be proven.  This includes medical claims, stories about things happening to people, etc..  Some of these are called "urban legends".  Remember how fast gossip traveled?  Well it goes even faster on the Internet.  If you are asked to pass information or a warning on to "everyone you know", it is advisable to check it out first.


Spam is the generic term for unsolicited commercial email (UCE) and other kinds of unsolicited promotional email. The main difficulty with spam is that sending emails is so cheap there is no incentive for cleaning up email lists.  The result is that the email systems can become clogged with email sent to invalid address and the subsequent automatic replies. In addition, the cost of receiving email is much more than sending them, especially where connect time charges are involved, so the burden of the cost of this type of advertising is being shifted to the recipient. Typical spammers use "throw-away" email addresses for their return address, or they use "stealth" techniques to hack into a system and "steal" computer time to send their tens or hundreds of thousands of messages.  Help fight spam. An email that asks every 50th or 100th person on the list to send the message back to them is most likely a device for collecting email addresses to sell or use for spamming.  This device gets the victims to do the work for them, and, since these messages tend to go on and on, often result in a continuous supply of new, valid, email addresses.

This page was updated by Ralph Kenyon on 2009/11/16 at 10:58 and has been accessed 9792 times at 48 hits per month.