Spammers scaring users into replying

Spam claiming to offer protection against crime and child abusers is rising and is proving more effective than pornography in attracting the gullible, says Clearswift

Spam is taking a nasty turn as cybercriminals try to capitalise on computer users' fears of crime, terrorism and sexual predators, according to the latest research from content security company Clearswift.

Jonathan Tate, worldwide product marketing manager for Clearswift, warned on Monday there has been a move away from the traditional methods such as using pornography as an enticement, and a new emphasis on well designed and plausible emails that try to play on people's fears.

This "new wave of junk mail" aims to frighten people with alarmist headlines such as "Protect your child from sex offenders! Download now!" and "You can't see it, but it can see you," These emails look plausible enough so people follow the link provided, and are then hit with phishing attacks, or similar.

"Spam and junk mail are getting much more sophisticated," said Jonathan Tate, worldwide product marketing manager for Clearswift. "Now they really do appeal to people who are worried about crime or the safety of their children. They find themselves replying before they even think about it and that is all the spammers want.

"They are not exploiting the gullible, they are exploiting fear." For the first time, large numbers of junk emails promoting goods associated with personal or family safety are starting to appear, Tate said.

"This shift toward a calculated attempt to frighten consumers into making purchases is very well timed," said Alyn Hockey, Clearswift's director of research, in a statement. Spam related to direct products, including security systems, rose last month to 11.7 per cent. Spam related to healthcare products — the "Viagra market" — remained high at 40 per cent while porn-related spam had dropped to its lowest-ever level of 3.6 per cent.