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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 October, 2004, 08:50 GMT 09:50 UK
E-mail scam plays on US elections
By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology editor

Presidential debate in the US
The message pretends to be a poll on who should be president
People are being warned about a scam e-mail which uses the US presidential poll to con them out of their money.

A junk e-mail invites people to dial a premium rate number to express their support for President George W Bush or rival John Kerry.

E-mail filtering firm BlackSpider estimates that almost a quarter of a million are being sent out every day.

In the past, net fraudsters have tried to use the 9/11 attacks and the tragedy in Beslan to get money.

900 number

At first glance, the presidential election message appears to be legitimate, saying it was sent from a Lycos.com address.

But BlackSpider Technologies said it had traced some of the e-mails to a server in the Czech Republic.

No doubt we will be seeing some messages like this in the next general election in the UK
John Cheney, BlackSpider Technologies
The mail reads: "Fellow Citizen: The extremely jubilant crowds in Baghdad appeared to vindicate President George Bush's belief that the military action in Iraq was the right move.

"But many questions still remain over the lack of hard evidence of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. With these tough times before us, let us know."

It goes on to ask readers if they support President Bush, prompting them to call a 900 premium rate number.

It says votes will be sent to the Bush and Kerry campaigns.

In an effort to convince people it is a genuine message, the e-mail says who commissioned the poll.

The mail adds that the calls will cost $1.99, saying this is "a little price to pay for a better democracy".

"This is a relatively new scam," said BlackSpider CEO, John Cheney.

"The question is, are they breaking the law? In the UK they are, in the US they are not."

Sending unsolicited messages to personal e-mail is barred in the UK. But in the US, people have to opt out of receiving these sorts of messages.

Hotbed of scams

BlackSpider estimates that 240,000 of the presidential scam e-mails are being sent out worldwide a day.

Close-up of inbox
Some of the presidential scam e-mails could slip through filters
The lack of any spelling mistakes and its resemblance to a genuine message means that it could slip through the spam filtering of home users.

This latest scam reflects how the nature of spam is changing.

In the past, spam was dominated by pornography. These days spam is a hotbed of financial scams, as well as a black market for fake pharmaceuticals and software.

E-mail scams known as phishing have tried to trick customers into giving away confidential bank details.

Other scams known as 419 try to part people from their cash by telling them they in line for millions from a deposed African leader.

The US presidential mail is just the latest trick used by spammers to part the unwary from their money.

"No doubt we will be seeing some messages like this in the next general election in the UK," said Mr Cheney.


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