TypewriterFrom The Urbach Letter December 2002

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Burglar at Window Burglary Update Autoresponder Danger
This is a follow-up to last month's lead article on how to protect yourself from the current surge in home burglaries. I've just learned about a new tactic used by Internet-savvy burglars. Internet Week reported on December 5th that technically adept criminals have found a new use for spam: targeting vacant homes to rob. Here's how they do it: they blitz out millions of spam messages and collect the ones that bounce back from "autoresponder" messages.

In case you don't know exactly what an autoresponder is, here's a quick overview. Many people have the ability to automatically generate a reply to the sender when a new email message appears in their inbox. It can be set up in your email program or by your Internet service provider. Some people use it to send a "your email was received" message (please know this is more annoying than helpful to most senders). A more common use these days is to issue an "I'm away from the office" message. I get several of these every time I send out a new issue of The Urbach Letter. Many of the contain very detailed schedule information, including travel agendas. The bad guys collect these "I'm away on a business trip until next Tuesday" messages and cross-reference individual names with online address books to discover home addresses. According to the article, people with unusual names living in small towns are especially at risk, because those addresses are easier to track down.

According to David Roberts, chief executive of the U.K. enterprise user group, The Corporate IT Forum, "You wouldn't go on vacation with a note pinned to your front door saying who you were, how long you'd be away, and when you'd be coming back. So why would you put this in an email?" The organization suggests keeping your autoresponder message as "bland" as possible, stating only that you are "currently unavailable" or "out of the office on business." The message should redirect queries to a colleague's business phone so somebody can assess the inquiry and, if warranted, verbally inform the caller how long you'll be away.

This sure seems like good advice to me.

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