Ken from Greer, SC writes:

AOL is a great email program but I get spam (no really, I DO get spam). Not a lot though because AOL does a real good job of blocking or sending it to my spam folder. My question is “How do they (the spammers) get ‘from addresses’ that are somewhat similar to my contacts?” And how do they know I have a Discover card or Capital One account etc?

The good news is that these spammers are most likely not getting the information from you. As along as your security program is up-to-date and you are careful about the programs you download, it’s more than likely that they are getting the address of your contacts from your contacts. Some people you know may have visited a malicious site, don’t have their security up-to-date or are perhaps accessing the Internet with Windows XP, which no longer has any security support.

A piece of malware could read their entire contact list and take your e-mail address as well as the address of people that you know mutually. They might also get the information from people who forward e-mail with a list of every one on their contact list in the To: line.

Most likely, these people have no idea that you have a Capital One or Discover account. They send that e-mail out to millions of people and count on some customers of  Capital One and Discover receiving these e-mails.  They use the same strategy with scam e-mails saying grandchildren are in trouble on vacation or that someone has been arrested overseas. They send out millions and count of finding a few people that do have grandchildren on vacation or know someone who is traveling abroad.

I used to work in the newsroom of a television station and I spoke with a woman who’d received a scam e-mail saying that her grandson had an accident in Alaska and needed money for medical treatment, so she wired the cash.  She actually had a grandson who was on vacation in Alaska. He, of course, was fine and never involved in a accident. The scammers just happened to send out that e-mail to her by chance. With millions of spammers sending out millions of e-mails each, the odds are in their favor that they’ll eventually hit something that might apply to you.

Your best defense against spammers is common sense, a suspicious nature and a up-to-date security software.

~ Cynthia