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The sheer volume of spam and malicious email makes computer security a daunting task. Luckily, following a few key tips will go a long way toward keeping you protected.
Did you know that junk email, malicious emails, phishing scams, and unwanted announcements make up more than four out of every five email messages, according to internet security software company Norton? That’s a staggering statistic. There is no way to stop the flood, and even the best software and filters will only get you so far. But there are ways to minimize the impact that junk emails have on you and your inbox, in the form of some do’s and don’ts. This is important, because spam isn’t just bothersome; it can be criminal. Many spam emails are designed to ultimately separate you from some of your money.
block email senders that regularly send you junk mail, unwanted offers, chain messages, or other bothersome messages.
respond to spam emails or interact with them. Most of the big damage spam can do takes place if you click on a link in a spam or scam email. Opening attachments or .exe files can be particularly dangerous, as those can unleash spying software or malware onto your device. Of course, never send passwords or personal information via email, but just as important is this: If you get an email even from a trusted vendor, look carefully before clicking on any of the links. A great deal of spam is designed to look like it came from Target, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, PayPal, and other legitimate vendors. One click can take you to a site designed to look like a retailer, only to have your credit card go to an identity thief.
take advantage of the “unsubscribe” button from legitimate enterprises that send you marketing mail you are no longer interested in.
write an unknown sender of an email, asking to be taken off their mail list. Even spammers can’t tell if all the addresses to which they’re sending spam are correct or active. But some interaction in the form of a reply from you lets them know that their email was seen and possibly opened. Now, the spammer has what’s considered a “live” email address, which he or she can add to other lists and sell to other spammers.
keep two separate emails, if you’d like to sign up for some offers, fan clubs, shopping clubs, special interest hobbies and the like, but keep most of your personal and business email separate. That way, you can use the one email address for commerce, and really restrict access to your other email address.
post your email address where it is publically available, unless you want to be added to a lot of spam lists.
review the privacy policies of websites when you enroll for online banking, shopping or other marketing newsletters. Take a dive into their privacy policies, including whether or not they share your email with vendors. If so, you may want to adjust your security preferences, or if that option is not available, simply not register with the site. Note that many sites—even reputable ones—have set the default on their registration page so that your email address will receive offers. Change the setting.
forward chain emails. This is always a good policy—and not just because many chain emails contain urban legends, erroneous, and perhaps useless information. Forwarding a chain email may mean that your email address and all those to whom you forward the message may become available for spammers. Any email message warning about a virus that encourages you to “send this to everyone you know,” is, in fact, its own virus! If you and everyone you know sent that email to everyone they knew, it would be a data crisis on an unprecedented level.
Some of this may seem like common sense, but you’d be amazed how many professional people don’t understand the risks of not keeping clean email policies. Even following these tips, though, you can be susceptible to spam and scam. In Part 3, we’ll look at what to do if you are targeted.