Spam is unsolicited (or junk) electronic messages sent by email, SMS, MMS or instant message. Spam messages can offer free goods or ‘prizes’, very cheap products (including pharmaceuticals), promises of wealth or other offers that could result in you taking part in a scam. You might be asked to pay a joining fee, to buy something to 'win' a prize or some other benefit or to call or text a 190 telephone or fax number (calls made to these numbers are charged at premium rates). Spam messages can offer you anything and everything—from fake college degrees to pirated software and counterfeit designer watches—so it pays to be suspicious and delete unsolicited emails.
Spam messages differ from regular printed junk mail in one major way—responding to a spam message can cause you many problems. You may find that malicious software like spyware or key-loggers has been downloaded onto your computer. You may find you are bombarded with more spam messages. Your credit card numbers or other personal details may be stolen. You may send away money for something that never arrives or is not what you thought it would be.
Remember that letters, electronic messages and other approaches offering you something that looks too good to be true are almost always scams.
If you are interested in an offer, use a search engine to locate the firm’s website address. Web-based forums may provide some insight into the activities of the firm. You should be wary if you cannot find information on the firm. If you are still unsure, contact your local office of fair trading to see whether it can tell you more about the offer.
Be sure that you know what the offer is actually for, what the total cost will be and what to do if something goes wrong (e.g. the product is not delivered or does not work).
Seek independent advice from an accountant or solicitor if a significant amount of money is involved. Don’t provide your credit card or bank account details to ANYBODY you are not completely sure about. Even if you receive an electronic message from a friend or relative asking for these details, check with them first with a phone call or alternate contact before you respond.
If you receive a spam offer, the best thing to do is delete it. DO NOT respond. Do not reply or attempt to unsubscribe, do not call any telephone number listed in the email and do not send any money, credit card details or other personal details to the scammers. Responding to email spam only indicates that your email address is active and you could end up with lots more fake offers in the future.
If you are interested in what the electronic message is offering, it is still best not to follow any link contained in the email. Internet links do not always lead where their name says they do. Sometimes, clicking on a link will download a malicious program to your computer. Make sure you have done your homework before doing anything to take up an offer from an electronic message.
If you have received a spam offer that you think may be a scam, you can report a scam through the SCAMwatch website. You should also tell your friends and family about the scam.
Anti-spam legislation (the Spam Act 2003) deals with spam with Australian links and the techniques that spammers use to send Australian consumers unsolicited electronic messages by email, SMS, MMS or instant message. The Australian Communications and Media Authority regulates spam in Australia. If you would like to report or complain about spam, or obtain more information on spam laws, spam reduction and internet security, visit Spam & e–Security on the ACMA website.
Spyware is a type of software that spies on what you do on your computer. Key-loggers record what keys you press on your keyboard. Scammers can use them to steal your online banking passwords or other personal information.