The internet has become an essential tool for communicating, which is partly why it has also become a popular target among scammers and cybercriminals. In order to safeguard yourself from email scams, harmful software, or identity theft, it’s essential that you understand the ways you might be at risk. Let’s go over the basics of identifying and avoiding potentially harmful content on the internet. You can always use 3rd party software to protect yourself.
The first line of defense begins with your email inbox. You’ve probably heard the term Spam before, in reference to junk email. Spammers can send an email to thousands of people at the same time – and they can do so anonymously, making anti-spam laws hard to enforce. So it’s important to be cautious when it comes to opening emails.
Fortunately though, many email services now provide customizable features to help you protect your inbox. For example, the ability to turn off email images. Spam contains images that the sender can track.
When you open the email, the images load, and the spammer will be able to tell if your email works, possibly resulting in more spam. If you’re using Gmail like I am, you can turn off email images by clicking the gear icon and then selecting Settings from the drop-down menu. Choose Ask before displaying external images, then click save.
Now if I get an email with images, Gmail will ask if I want the images to be displayed. Most email services also check to see if incoming messages are spam. If it finds spam, it will store the mail in a spam folder so you don’t accidentally open it when you’re checking your email.
Spam blocking systems aren’t perfect though, and there may be times when legitimate emails end up in your spam folder, so it’s a good idea to regularly check and make sure you aren’t missing important emails. To check your spam folder in Gmail, click More in the left pane, then select Spam. And here you can see all the emails that have ended up in your spam folder.
Many email services have a feature you can use to mark emails as spam. In Gmail, I can just select the email and then click this button to mark it as spam. This helps your email provider to filter out these types of messages in the future. Some spam emails are simply annoying advertisements. Others will claim to be contacting you about something important, when what they’re really trying to do is steal your personal information. This is known as Phishing – it’s a type of scam in which an email pretends to be from a bank or another trusted source in order to trick you into handing over your personal information by asking you to complete some sort of action.
They may want you to re-enter a password, “verify” or “update” sensitive information like phone numbers, addresses, or credit card numbers – and they almost always tell you to do so by following the links they provide. It’s a good idea to avoid clicking links in emails. Instead of clicking the link, re-type the URL into your browsers address bar to ensure that you go to the correct website. For example, here’s an email that looks like it’s from Bank of America, saying that some personal information has been changed, and asking me to verify the changes by following a few links. It looks real enough at first glance, but it’s surprisingly easy for scammers to create deceiving details such as these.
Remember, phishing emails won’t always look like they’re phishing. Their whole purpose is to look like they’re from your bank, credit card, or another trusted company. Think of it this way – if someone came to your house saying they worked for your bank and they needed your social security number to verify that you’re the account holder, would you give it to them? Chances are you wouldn’t give out that information.
Look at emails the same way – just because an email says it’s from a familiar company, doesn’t mean it really is. Spam, scams, and phishing schemes will keep evolving just as the technology to stop them does, but if you know what to look for, and what to avoid, you can keep your inbox that much safer.