Paypal Scam Nearly Got Me [en]

How I almost got scammed by people masquerading as PayPal. Remember to always type https://paypal.com in your browser, and never to click links!

I consider myself pretty web-savvy and spam/hoax-aware. Today I very nearly got fooled into giving my PayPal information to some shady characters.

This morning I got an e-mail from PayPal — or so I thought. It looked nice and branded, no spelling or grammar mistakes, security warnings telling me not to give my password or anything to anybody, and even a link inviting me to go and see PayPal’s Security Tips page. It was just asking me to login on the site and check my data there (that’s what I understood then, re-reading it now, it says they will verify the information I have entered, which is much more fishy).

I had already made a mental note of one of the PayPal warnings, which is to not trust any other site than https://www.paypal.com/ (I’m not linking it so as not to encourage you to click on links which seem to point there — you’ll understand why in a minute). Now, remember this was early morning for me (don’t you also check your e-mail in the morning?). I clicked on the login link, and noticed the browser was sending me to a website identified by an IP address (194.183.4.23 in this case). I stopped everything, and clicked the nice blue link that said https://www.paypal.com/us/cgi-bin/cmd=profile-update. The login page looked furiously like the real PayPal login page, and I was about to login with no second thoughts when I noticed the name in the browser bar was http://www.ssl2-paypal.com/support/update.html — not the link I had clicked on!

I had seen this address before, in another “PayPal” e-mail I had got a couple of weeks back. Already then they had managed to fool me, even though the e-mail was less well crafted than this time. I smelled a rat, so finally typed https://paypal.com/ in my browser and logged in there. Nothing special happened.

I dug out the previous e-mail, slightly worried now. You see, although I had been suspicious about this first e-mail, I do remember that I had logged in somewhere. But to this moment I’m not sure if I logged into the fake website or if I had the sense to point my browser to the real PayPal website myself before logging in. I think I did, I hope I did, and in any case I just checked my account for fraudulous activity and changed my password. The first e-mail was really bad, but I was convinced enough that it came from PayPal to forget about it, just making a mental note that their copywriting was really really poor.

This made the second scam e-mail seem all the more real: when I got it, I thought “oh, so that last e-mail must really have been a fake, this is what a real one looks like.” Poor unsuspecting me.

At this point, I still thought the second e-mail was a “real” one, but that the ssl2-paypal people had someway managed to hack a redirect on the official PayPal site. I hadn’t looked at the e-mail source yet, see?

Anyway, I decided to report the first e-mail I had received.

Coming back home at the end of the day, I had an automated response from PayPal regarding my complaint. It again stated all the security measures to take, in particular the one about always typing https://paypal.com in your browser. And I thought: “you doofuses, you had better stop putting clickable links in your e-mails if you want people to get used to typing the address!”

I was going to respond to them with a more politically correct comment in that direction when I went to have a second look at the e-mail (which, I remind you, I still thought legitimate) I had got in the morning. And that is when I realised that the beautiful blue link was in fact a fake link, disguised as a real one. You can put anything in the href attribute of an achor tag — the catch here is that their link looks a lot like the blue links e-mail reading programs create when they encounter plain-text URL’s.

So, there we go. I was nearly caught by those not-that-dumb spammers. Remember the golden rule:

Always TYPE the address in your browser, don’t CLICK on links in PayPal or other e-mails.

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Virus Disguised as XP Update? Or not? [en]

I got an e-mail about an XP update, apparently from Microsoft. I’m wondering if it is for real (I don’t run XP) or if it is a virus in disguise.

Here is an e-mail I got this morning from [email protected]:

Window Update has determined that you are running a beta version of Windows XP Service Pack 1 (SP1). To help improve the stability of your computer, Microsoft recommends that you remove the beta version of Windows XP SP1 and re-install Windows XP SP1. If you cannot remove the beta version, you should still reinstall Windows XP SP1.

Windows XP SP1 provides the latest security, reliability, and performance updates to the Windows XP family of operating systems. Windows XP SP1 is designed to ensure Windows XP platform compatibility with newly released software and hardware, and includes updates to resolve issues discovered by customers or by Microsoft’s internal testing team.

The maximum download size is approximately 3 MB, however the size of the download and time required may be less for computers that have had updates previously installed.

To minimize the download time needed for installation, setup will only download those files which are required to bring your computer up to date. Windows XP SP1 includes Internet Explorer 6 SP1. Anti-virus software programs may interfere with the installation of Windows XP SP1. Please disable anti-virus software while installing the service pack.

Just run the file winxp_sp1.exe in attach and make sure to restart your PC after installation will be completed.

’©2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Terms of Use Privacy Statement

I don’t run Windows XP.

Being suspicious in nature (yes, about certain things), I can’t help but think that this is a pretty cleverly disguised virus. I might be wrong, though. Does Microsoft send out this kind of e-mail?

If you have similar experiences to share or an opinion on the subject, I’d love to hear from you.

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