Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

It can be disconcerting to get spam that seems related to the sites you visit. It's probably not related, but there are a couple of ways it might be.

I have noticed that I am getting spams related to websites I access frequently. That is, if I am accessing my bank account online, or pay bills online, spams asking for passwords, security etc., are received. My question is, how do spammers know of the sites I visit. And how do I make my online transactions safe, and hidden from spammers.

My initial reaction is to say: they don't. And in most cases I'm going to stick with that as the most likely answer.

However...

There are a few exceptions where you might get spam related to your visits. Some are benign, but others might be a sign of problems on your computer.

They Don't

By and large spammers have no idea who you are. In fact, most don't even know if your email address even works - they're just blasting spam out to anything and everyone they can with the hopes that some small percentage will get looked at, and a small percentage of that will actually get acted on.

"So the most likely cause is simply coincidence; there's very probably no relationship whatsoever."

I think part of it can be the "new car effect" - when you get a new car you suddenly see that same car on the road much more often than you did before you got one. It's not that they weren't there - they were - it's just that now as a proud owner of a certain model you're more likely to see that model on the road.

The same can happen with spam. For a while there was a common spam spoofing UPS and FedEx delivery service notifications. I had a UPS account and UPS deliveries at the time and you can bet I noticed the UPS related phishing attempts.

So the most likely cause is simply coincidence; there's probably no relationship whatsoever.

Marketing

If you have an existing business relationship with a company and they have your email address it's possible that you may get email that you consider spam that relates to, or results from, your relationship with that company. For example, quite often as you complete a purchase or register with an online merchant you'll see an option to allow them to share your email address with trusted partners.

Typically this is more traditional marketing material attempting to sell you related services or products, and certainly nothing that would ask for your password or other security information unless you clicked through to log in to a web site.

So I'm not as convinced that this applies to your scenario, but it is a possibility for some.

Spyware

Of course there is a scenario that could explain everything you're seeing and worse: spyware.

It's possible that your machine is infected with a keylogger or other form of spyware that is indeed tracking what you're up to including which sites you visit. It's possible, I suppose, that the hacker collecting this information could then turn around and sell your email address and activities to spammers who would then be able to target your activities specifically.

My only hesitation with this scenario is simply that it's not necessary.

By that I mean if you have spyware on your machine that's capable of collecting your email address and your web browsing activity, why would they stop there? At that point they could snoop in on anything including your banking activity - they wouldn't have to resort to phishing to get that information from you.

Naturally the "cure" here is pretty simple: keep malware off of your machine. Run up to date scans regularly, and practice "safe computing" to keep your machine safe.

Article C4712 - January 16, 2011 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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2 Comments
Zoja
January 18, 2011 10:20 AM

Conversely, if an account DOES NOT show signs of activity, spam seems to get worse until it overtakes the inbox as well as spam box like some sort of a weed you cannot kill and which multiplies. One example is having two similar accounts, for example with AOL, one of which I have used much less and which is now a no-go zone. From time to time I venture in to delete dozens of spams and nasty marketing and check just in case there is a real mail there somewhere from someone who is not aware of my preference for other accounts. Another, sad example is someone who has died and their account (hotmail) is meant to be checked; I go in from time to time via webmail (I suspect I am now the only person doing that) and see that people like Amazon have almost stopped mailing and spammers have invaded the spam box and the inbox too. Clearly the person who has passed away is not operating his former laptop or email account so is not 'inviting' them in any way. On my machine, there is protection and my Yahoo accounts etc and indeed the 'healthy' AOL account do not suffer - Yahoo gets maybe one spam every other day and it goes into the spam box. Where is the weed of spam (some of it purporting to be from Facebook or Windows Live) coming from and why does it choose dormant or dead people's accounts more than active ones?

KP
September 12, 2012 1:18 AM

Hi.

You could for that matter try
http://www.knujon.com/sendusspam.html
in order to get spam reduced overall. Just fyi even if topic is rather old.

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