Are you receiving scam emails requesting payment for items you never purchased? Or are you receiving emails from companies you are doing business with, requesting updated information to your account? Have you been in receipt of a demand letter for copyright illegal image use?
If you’ve answered yes to any of the above, then it’s important that you learn how to protect yourself from these internet trolls who can disrupt your life and your finances.
Many of these cyber criminals thrive on sending out numerous emails, and they only need to catch a few unknowing victims to grow their profits. In a world where so much of our daily activities are done online now, it makes us more vulnerable to scammers. It’s sometimes overwhelming the amount of emails we receive, and subsequently, when time is short, we have a tendency to click on them a bit too eagerly to get through them. But when it comes to receiving emails from companies you aren’t familiar with, or do business with, regarding payments, we have to slow down and do a little more digging.
In these past few months, I’ve received scam emails from LCS – one of the biggest alleged scam copy infringements currently circulating, a scam letter from a company I’ve never heard of, saying I owe $55,000 in arrears, a gmail support letter to my ‘alternate’ alert email, and a request for updated information to my Paypal account.
You may be wondering how we can sniff out the scammers, and what to do about them. And today I’m going to share how to deal with these illegal annoyances.
Gmail support is pretty darned good at sniffing out scammy things. Last week I received a notification from them, informing me that they had deleted something scammy out of my mailbox. When I tried to find that email, it was not even available to view in junk. Although I was happy that Gmail is doing their due diligence, I would have liked to have been able to see the offending email so I could see if I should have taken further action.
Paypal is also good at staying on top of and informing clients about scammy occurrences and how to handle them. If Paypal sends you an email, it will always have your name and correct email address on it. It will come from Paypal.com, and won’t have any other weird attachments such as someone’s name and email added to the URL. And they will never ask you for sensitive information in an email. You’d have to go to your account and log in to fulfill any requests they are asking for. They also ask that if you’ve received any emails saying they’re from them, and discovering they are not, to forward that email to their spam department, something I’ve done numerous times over the years. All you do is forward the email to email@example.com. You don’t even have to write your name or any explanation, just forward it. I do all the time, because this helps Paypal find these scammers. Here is a link with more info: https://www.paypal.com/ca/webapps/mpp/security/what-is-phishing
There are numerous scams going on through email servers that we must be diligent in ciphering out. And remember to NEVER open any links from suspicious emails, as they may also contain viruses.
This week I also received an email from a company I’d never heard of, demanding $55,000 in overdue payment. The email was rather lengthy, but what didn’t it contain: My name, what exactly I purchased that was in arrears, no mention of dates of previous correspondence, NO WEBSITE in the address or salutation, a strange erotic email address return, and a phone number to contact, which when I searched it, turned out there was no area code for in North America.
So after doing my search, although finding the email had nothing to do with me, I didn’t like the fact that someone had chosen my email to scam, and as I always worry about unresolved repercussions, I decided that I should be reporting it to the fraud squad.
Every country has a government website where we can report these fraudulent scams. And I just felt better sending it in, just so there is documented evidence of the incident on file, should anything further pop up. Here are the Canadian and U.S. websites where you can forward these scam emails. Each website has explicit instructions on how to handle the situations and forward them for recording. – https://www.us-cert.gov/report-phishing and http://www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca/index-eng.htm
Now, as far as cease and demand letters go from LCS (the name that Getty Images hides under to claim extortion-like payments from unknowing users of images, accused of copyright infringement), this process is spreading like wildfire, with hundreds of people daily being sent these letters. There is much controversy on the validity of these letters and how to respond. I myself received one last December, as I wrote about below:
I have discussed this problem with a lawyer friend and various forums I found from googling ‘LCS demand letters‘, and there still doesn’t seem to be a concrete answer on exactly how to handle these extortion letters, or to check their validity. I was very frightened the first time I received one, and chose to comply immediately, before learning more about this trend.
I never intentionally used someone else’s photo knowingly. The first time, they found a photo on my blog that I had used to share a post from someone else’s website as a reblog. The photo THEY used, was showing on my site, therefore, I was accused of infringing, because obviously, the blogger who used that photo wasn’t aware it was copyrighted,
The scary part about these threat letters now is that Getty Images is crawling the web 24/7 with their spy bots, looking at thousands of photos a day and seeing where they’ve been downloaded to. Many of the photos used to accuse ‘infringers’ aren’t even owned by Getty, or they’re accusing that part of a photo is from one of theirs, or even better – Getty puts up some ‘free’ images on a particular site, then someone uses one on their blog, and perhaps you decide to copy it, since it’s stated ‘free use’, then Getty goes after those that have copied the original ‘free photo’ and you instantly become an infringer. It’s almost as though they are setting us up as prey.
We also have to be careful of using images from sites which declare the photos ARE free to use, as possibly as the years pass and we forget about those photos we’ve used on a blog and find that there may have been an expiration on the free use.
Then there is the business of people posting images available for free use on image sites, which they have in fact stolen themselves. Who can we trust? This nightmare of possibilities to be unknowingly accused continues daily, and here is an important link to read about how this business keeps thriving.
I also came into receipt once again, of another infringement notice, in January. Apparently I’m accused of using two ‘illegal’ photos. (They scour the net and take screenshots.) One of which I don’t have anywhere in my files, but vaguely remember seeing and taken off a year ago, which coincidentally, I understood to be free at the time, and another which has a distinct watermark through it, which doesn’t match the one I had used on my blog 2 years ago, with no watermark. Both photos, incidentally, were taken from a site which I was a member of, and stated we could download and use photos from those which were publicly displayed. The site also has a policy where people can only download their own photos, nothing unlawfully. Obviously I trusted that where I got those photos, were owned by the poster. I would never intentionally steal the work of another artist, and the thought of being accused of doing so is quite unsettling.
I’m sure this matter isn’t over yet, because I haven’t succumbed to paying, but as I’ve been reading up on so many other blogger/writer experiences with this business, I’ve discovered that once you’ve been ‘selected’ for a demand letter and you pay up in fear, they know you’re an easy mark, and they’ll be back. Also note, that no matter the dispute, it’s very important to delete the image in question off your blog AND from any files you have copies in, as that’s how the robots find them snooping on servers. Certainly their ‘search and destroy mission’ sounds almost illegal itself.
Below is another informative link about the whole Getty demand letter titled : Scam or Real?
I hope that by being armed with this information, this can save you all some grief down the path of our internet lives. And if anybody has a related experience they’d like to share here, please do.