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Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images

An email scam outfit is taking advantage of Gmail's "dot" feature to streamline operations, according to email security firm Agari.

Gmail dots? Gmail allows users to add or subtract periods in their email addresses at will. If you own the right to someusername@gmail.com, you will receive emails sent to some.user.name@gmail.com and s.o.m.e.u.s.e.r.n.a.m.e@gmail.com.

  • That may seem like a minor feature, but the vast majority of email providers treat each of those as different accounts. That allows you to sign up for multiple accounts on most websites in each of those email addresses.

Here's where the crime comes in. BEC (business email compromise) scams run many operations in parallel. If they target a government agency offering grants or tax refunds, usually that means they have to use a different address for each instance of the scam.

  • "Using the dots feature is the difference between creating 20 accounts on a website or monitoring one inbox," said Crane Hassold, senior director of threat intelligence at Agari.

The criminal group discovered by Agari, according to the official writeup, used the Google dots approach to:

  • Apply for 48 credit cards at 4 "U.S.-based financial institutions," netting at least $65,000 in fraudulent credit.
  • Register for 14 trial accounts with sales leads sites, to use those leads in other scams.
  • Fake 13 tax returns with a tax filing service.
  • Submit 12 postal change of address requests.
  • Apply 11 times for fraudulent Social Security benefits.
  • Fake 9 identities for unemployment benefits in a "large US state."
  • Submit 3 applications for FEMA disaster assistance.

All of these attacks took place in 2018 or 2019.

"We're not calling Google out with this report," said Hassold.

  • Rather, he said, he thinks searching for multiple accounts under differently dotted Gmail accounts can be a useful security tool.
  • Agari has recommended the technique to several of its clients, who they say report it has been useful in finding fraudulent accounts.

Go deeper

Advocates fret Roe v. Wade's 49th anniversary could be its last

Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Women's March Inc

As Saturday marks the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's landmark decision that legalized abortion access in the U.S., advocates warn the ruling is "more at risk now than ever."

The big picture: The Supreme Court in December heard a challenge to a Mississippi 15-week abortion ban that could throw Roe's survival into question, or at least narrow its scope.

Updated 11 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."