Are Your Emails Hazardous To Your Health?

Once you go online, it’s open hunting season, and one of the most common ways to get shot by someone else, or by yourself, (known as a negligent discharge in Wild Fowler circles), is through the use of email. 

Simply connecting to the internet is fraught with dangers as you instantly expose your data and personal information to Hackers, Identity Thieves, Viruses, Worms, and Data Mining Spyware.  Do ensure that you have a Firewall (included in Windows XP), actually turned on, and that you have an effective Anti-Virus program. 

Personally I recommend AVG which is free because in speaking with quite a few knowledgeable people who are involved in setting up networks, they say that AVG is equally as good as most of the ‘Paid For’ software out there. If you are ‘new’ to the internet, or even generally to computers, I have five tips to share with you around the subject of email, which, could help protect you from having your computer actually taken over by a hacker, or from credit card fraud or identity theft.

Your Email Inbox

A lot of people have their Outlook set up to list emails on one side, while having an auto opening reading pane on the other. 

This is fine if you are hosting with a good company such as 1&1 or some of the other top companies which provide a pre-inbox screening service to delete threats, and you have a great anti-virus program.  However advice is it should be turned off.  Why? 

Because the nastier side of human nature is always developing new threats, and the anti-virus software is usually updated after a new threat emerges.  The email which has just landed in your inbox could contain some new dangerous code, and your computer has just automatically opened it for you.  In addition, it is advisable to turn off auto picture downloading, as some spammers monitor email addresses to see if there is a response download of the attachment they send out, thus confirming that the spammed email address is a valid one. 

Go to ‘View/Reading Pane’ in the Outlook Menu to disable the message viewing pane.

Go to ‘Tools/Options/Security/Change Automatic Download Settings’ to disable the pictures.

Look Carefully At Your Email

Be careful what you respond to. 

Carefully check the email thoroughly before you do anything.  Don’t respond to emails purporting to be from your Credit Card Company, Bank, or other Financial Company which ask for personally identifiable information such as passwords, or account information. 

These emails may look exactly like the ‘real’ email sent out by that firm. I joined PayPal, and the following day I received an email saying my account was unconfirmed would be deleted if I didn’t confirm, and then it asked to put my account email and password in the box. This email was exactly like the real PayPal site.  Luckily I checked it with PayPal and didn’t respond, and that was only because the day before I had read such a warning. 

It’s easy to be scammed into providing crucial financial or private contact information which leaves you vulnerable to credit card theft, identity theft, or even fraud.  If in doubt, go get the contact number for the company from your statement and ring them. Never use a contact number or contact details from such an email.

It’s Ok, It’s From A Friend.  That’s Got To Be Safe, Hasn’t It?

That’s a common assumption to make, but it isn’t always correct! 

This email might have been sent because your friend has been the unwilling victim of a worm or virus which blasts out emails to everyone on their contact list.  Usually there would be an attachment, and the email header would be something like, ‘Hey Bro look at this’, and it will look quite innocent. 

If in doubt, check it out.  Call them and be sure. 

However in truth, if you are using a good anti-virus program, most will pick up these type of emails quickly and quarantine them for you.

Read And Send Your Emails Using Plain Text

Email messages sent in html (Hyper Text Markup Language), can contain malicious code that can install into your computer. 

Again a good anti-virus program can help counter this type of threat, but it is still a good idea to use plain text email messages where possible.  If you are unfortunate enough to have one of these damaging emails get through, opening it in plain text will prevent the malicious code from installing. 

It’s just another line of defense to consider.

Use Common Sense

Someone famous once said that Common Sense is not all that common, and we all are prone to lapses at times. 

All said it is still probably the best defense to protect yourself when you are online and using your email program.  Be aware of what the email is asking.  Don’t write an email with information you wouldn’t like everyone to know.  Not only can email be intercepted, but what if you have addressed it wrongly by mistake? 

A little caution can keep you from becoming the next victim of fraud or theft. 

Remember the old adage, “Littlest said is soonest mended”. 

Article by Mark McGimpsey

Explore posts in the same categories: Computers and Internet

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