Phishing for victims and serving up spam

Firewalls, filters and virus protection are tools computer users rely upon when taking advantage of one of the most important inventions of the 20th century. Despite their best efforts, however, unsavory mail and content gets through.

Everyone who's ever written an email has had the experience of unsolicited messages from unknown people showing up in their inbox. The majority of people simply delete them. Some subject lines can be too tempting for some people to resist -- especially ones offering something everyone likes: free money.

"Scams like these have been going on for many years," said New York State Police Investigator Alan R. Cordary. "It's not to say people are stupid, just that scammers are persistent and convincing. A new group of people who aren't aware of this scam are born every day."

The most important thing people need to remember, Cordary said, is that there's no such thing as a free lunch.

"People fall prey to these scams because of greed," he said. "You don't get anything for nothing in this world. Every week, intelligent people call [my office] and ask if one of these offers is for real."

Cordary himself has been on the receiving end of scam offers. A letter telling him the New York State Comptroller's office was holding money in his name and would tell him how to get hold of it for $30 landed at his door one day. Even though he knows the game, Cordary said, he found himself tempted. It seemed like $30 wasn't much to spend for an unexpected windfall. Thinking twice, however, Cordary did his homework and realized you can find that information from the Comptroller's office free of charge on its website.

Online and snail-mail scams are everywhere; operating offshore, in Canada and in places overseas where U.S. officials can't touch them. They are also right here at home, running cheats on users of online auction sites such as eBay.

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