28/11/2013 07:53 GMT | Updated 27/01/2014 05:59 GMT

Spam Starts a New Chapter

Spam is ubiquitous today and the people behind these messages will find any excuse to persuade you to part with your cash. Most of us are familiar with the 'family-in-distress' tactic used by scammers over recent years and believe we have the edge on them. But now there is a new plot, a new story-line with new characters.

Over the past couple of years, television screens have regularly hosted haunting images of the crisis in Syria. Heart-breaking for the compassionate, but potentially financially lucrative for the opportunistic. Most of us see hurt and hopelessness, but sadly some see money and opportunity. A conflict such as the one ongoing in Syria provides scammers with a whole new armoury of scenarios which can be played on in scam e-mails to convince people into send them money.

Is this a cynical view of the world? No. According to a recent report, there has been a surge in the number of scam e-mails containing reference to Syria. Dressed up as official e-mails from banks, humanitarian organisations or private citizens, the letters make up various stories all with the same intention - to get us to part with our cash. This is not to say that all e-mails claiming to be from a Syrian or a humanitarian worker in distress are fraudulent, but people need to be aware of the risk.

The stories are often well thought out, highly sophisticated and may seem completely genuine. Scammers will say anything to cloak their real intentions. One recent case detected by Kaspersky Lab involves scammers posing as members of the International Red Cross claiming to have saved the fortune of an oil trader who died in the conflict. Of course they will proceed to ask for help with transferring and looking after the money, which usually results in you paying an admin fee to help with the process. Another heart-wrenching tale involves asking an individual for help because an orphaned child has inherited a large sum of money from their parents and needs somewhere safe to keep it.

The list goes on. But however complex the plot might be, it will always result in the same thing - asking you for bank details or to send money. You might think you could never be caught out by such an obvious scam, but people are and that's how the scammers make their money. Fortunately, there are tips that can help us spot this type of scam immediately:

  1. When opening an e-mail remember to ask yourself whether or not you know the sender. If not - be extra sensitive to the fact that it might be spam.
  2. Be wary of scammers claiming to be an 'ordinary' Syrian citizen like a teacher, or frequent use of words such as 'turmoil', 'crisis' or 'revolution'. This aims to play on your conscience and make you think the sender is in imminent danger.
  3. Don't be caught out if the e-mail looks official, even if it seems to be from a well-known organisation, because amongst all the badly written spam, there will be one that has had a lot more time and money spent on it to make it look legitimate.
  4. Be aware of anyone asking you for money in the first instance or requesting an unusual amount of personal information, especially your bank details.
  5. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.