Spam Alert: Fake Microsoft Survey Emails

Did you get an email from Microsoft claiming to offer you $300 for every survey you complete? You may not want to count this money just yet.

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It’s fake.

We’ve seen an increase of these fake emails over the past week. The body of the email claims that you can receive $300 for every survey you complete. They ask for your name, address, and other personal information in order to participate. The bottom of the email states that is is from PineCone Research Foundation.

The scam is an advanced fee scam in which they will send you a check for more than the amount you are “due” and ask you to send them the balance. The check will bounce and you’ll be out the money you sent them.

Red Flags

  • Not from Microsoft. Perhaps the most glaring red flag is that this obviously not from Microsoft or PineCone Research. In fact, the email came from an aol.com email address. Why did the email not come from a Microsoft or PineCone Research address?
  • Spammer Techniques. The particular email we received uses a common technique employed by spammers to circumvent spam filters. They use characters with white text (which appear invisible on most email clients) in order to mask the words they are using in the body of the email. (See examples below)
  • Temporary Address. The address listed in the “from” field of this email was invalid days after we received it, apparently shut down after complaints.

 

Here is the email how it is seen in an email client:

MS-fake1

 

Now here is the exact same text after we have selected it with our cursor. Notice that what appeared to be spaces were actually white/hidden characters. This technique is used to avoid spam filters which look for specific words and strings of text:

MS-fake2

 

Pinecone Research
We reached out to Pinecone Research. They responded, “This is not a legitimate email.” They also directed us to a security notice, which reads:

We have been made aware that third parties may be attempting to use the names and logos of Pinecone Research for different “scams.” One example of such a scam is a “mystery shopping” assignment. Essentially, the victim is provided a fake check and advised to cash it, and then use some of the proceeds to test a service (for example, testing a Western Union wire transfer). The victim is advised that he or she may retain the balance from the cashed check as payment, however, the check later bounces. Other examples include recruiting for “business evaluation surveys” or “hiring” employees.

Please be aware that Pinecone Research has no involvement in these fraudulent transactions. Participating in our surveys is always free of charge, and we never ask our panelists to cash a check for a large amount and then use the proceeds to “test” a service. Furthermore, all communications with us will always be with the email address “[email protected]” — be wary of any email that asks you to respond to a different address, or asks you to respond by clicking on a link within the email. (Please be aware that email sending addresses can be faked, and so it’s possible for a fake email to appear to have come from this address.)

If you are targeted by any of these scams, please report any information regarding these activities to local law enforcement agencies, as well as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) “econsumer.gov” reporting system (https://econsumer.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/) in the United States or the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre (http://www.phonebusters.com/) in Canada.

Should you receive an email such as this, it is in your best interest to merely delete it.

Bottom Line
Would you trust this company to pay $300 per survey when they can’t even tell you the truth regarding their origin, and resort to deceptive techniques like those listed above?

Your Turn
Have you received an email like the one listed above? Let us know about it in the comments below.

Article updated May 6, 2013

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