Today I got email that pretended to come from Ebay, in the form of a fake invoice that is actually bait to get you to click on one of the links in the message. This is known as “phishing”, as explained on Wikipedia.
Now this particular message was sent to the wrong email address. I use a unique email address for each online merchant or other purpose such as forums and any other kind of sign-up. The particular service I use, and have been happy with for many years, is https://www.sneakemail.com. It is handy for me to keep track of order information and forum sign-up data too, for low-to-medium security purposes (I keep passwords for banking sites and such in a password vault).
So, when I got this scam email, I knew that it was not really sent from PayPal. It was sent to the address I used for Things From Another World, “best online store to buy comics, graphic novels, manga, and pop-culture collectibles!” and apparently to have your customer information stolen, too. I used this email address on an order made January 3, 2006, for the Serenity comics, in case you’re interested. That’s just to point out how Sneakemail helps me track these things.
So now their customer database winds up in the hands of criminals.
This is not the first time it has happened. Other companies have been caught at supplying email address and perhaps first/last name (and who knows what else?) to those who then send spam or phishing email. Most of the time they totally ignore repeated inquiries to their customer service, support, help, or other email addresses.
But when I have gotten an answer (e.g. from dyndns), it usually turns out to be blamed on the company they use for their newsletters, and they promise that it only included non-sensitive information. So, that’s another reason to be sure to un-check any kind of newsletter subscription that they usually have on the check-out page.
Now, with Sneakemail, I can activate greylisting on an individual address, set up filtering (which is handy for addresses used for mailing lists and forums) to only allow through the intended correspondent, and, when necessary, disable or delete that individual address. Deleting the address I used to place orders with TFAW or Oratec, does not affect any other address so all my other correspondence is not bothered.
Update May 11
I received a reply from someone at TFAW.com dated Friday afternoon. That’s about a 24-hour turn-around, which is remarkable in these cases.
She said, (bold mine)
And also invited me to forward the message with the headers, for them to keep on file (not to further analyze?)
If I read that correctly, they didn’t give information to anyone such as a mailing list company, and nobody ever accessed their data surreptitiously (meaning their detection would be flawless even if the access control isn’t). So what’s left? Deliberate access by someone on the inside. Somehow I don’t think that’s what she meant. Maybe email was gathered in-flight from their outgoing confirmation mail (the only time that address ever appeared in an email before the spam) only to be held for a couple years before being used for spam.
If some third party is listening in on email transit, I think there would be worse effects than just use of the address much later: such a person would have the receipt, invoice, and whatnot, containing order numbers and account information and could immediately spoof that person at that store, read the mail sent for a password reset, and go nuts. However, the current state of security on email sent between parties on normal ISPs is far from tight.
July 28, 2014 — The Sock Company
I got another PayPal phishing message, this one sent to the email address I used with Thorlos socks. I like their socks very much, and my notes indicate that it’s cheaper to order from them directly because of free shipping, unless the order is more than $55 in which case it’s better to by from The Sock Company. I’m sure prices have changed since I first ordered from them in 2005, but that is an illustration of the kind of records I keep and why I’m confidant that nobody else would know of the email address to which I’m receiving these messages.
September 4, 2014 — Kingwin
Another occurrence, this time from Kingwin. I emailed their tech support two years ago with questions about their USB SATA Dock products. At least this time there’s no customer information with them, but only my name and a (unique) email address.
June 18, 2014 — LightRocket
I got an ad promoting something called LightRocket, sent to my historical original email address. What I mean by that is once upon a time the Web was a nicer place and my email address was published on my web pages and various publications. I still maintain it, but it’s only used by “cold calls”.
When I wrote back asking how I got on their mailing list, I got a real reply from someone in short order. That’s nice, and hopefully I’ll find out something. I’ll revise this report as I learn more.
January 4, 2015 — OEM PC World
I’ve ordered flash media from time to time from OEM PC World, most recently in July 2013. Now I’m getting dozens of emails for mail order brides. I’m sure that’s not really in their catalog, so how did these purported women get my contact info from them? Interesting that a company that’s been “the world’s memory value leader” for over 15 years doesn’t have an email address itself, but can only be reached via a web form.
I received a real reply from someone later that same day.
June 2015— Paradigm Speakers tech support
I wrote Paradigm Speakers support email on 23 June 2014, and one year later I started getting PayPal and Apple ID Phishing email. It wasn’t until November that I noticed some leaking through my normal spam filter, but I see it goes back at least to June 3.
In December 2016, I’m still getting junk from them (56 over the last 30 days), with nothing resolved.
December 4, 2016 — IcyDock
I got a PayPal Phishing email that slipped through my filters, that was sent to an email address used for product registration for Icy Dock, on November 21 2011. Is this just the first to slip past the filters? I checked the sneakemail stats and it was the only email to that address in the last 30 days. So, the security breach of customer info is recent perhaps.
I contacted Icy Dock Sales, and quickly got a serious reply from a representative. It’s refreshing to see that a company not only reads and responds to their own email, but gives a serious reply rather than some canned blather or blanket denials. So, Kudos to them!
It would be great to discover if some particular 3rd party service were responsible for many of these incidents. It would be possible if companies took it seriously and noted who was given customer information and when. A culprit would show up as being common to many of them.