Protect Your Email from Spam

Friday, June 15, 2012

By definition, “spam” is unsolicited email of a commercial nature that is distributed in bulk – electronic junk mail. Most of the time, spam is just a nuisance, taking up space and wasting your time. But it can be dangerous as well – to your computer, your personal information and the people in your email contact list. The following advice will help you stop spam in its tracks:

Do not open emails from unknown sources. Spam can contain viruses that can damage or shut down your system, or malware – software designed to harm your computer or take over certain operations within it. If you don’t recognize the address as a reputable source, don’t open it!

If you mistakenly open a message and don’t recognize the sender, do not reply, open any attachments or click on links. It may seem that the “unsubscribe” or “remove” option is a good idea, but it could be a fraudulent attempt to collect your email address so that more spam can be sent to you. Attachments might contain malware to steal your personal information or compromise your computer’s performance. And links can take you to fraudulent sites. Never attempt to purchase a product or service that is advertised in this type of message either. Once you realize this item might be spam, delete it.

Watch for spoofing. Spammers sometimes make messages look like they are coming from friends you know. This practice is called “spoofing.” If you open a message from some you think you know but the message contains a suspicious link or attachment, do not open it. Instead, contact your friend to confirm the legitimacy of the message.

Beware of phishing. Often spammers mimic legitimate organizations – financial institutions, in particular – and ask you to provide personal information, typically under the guise of updating your account. If you click on the link and provide your information, they use it to access your accounts or steal your identity. These emails can be fairly sophisticated, as phishing scammers often include the institution’s logo or other elements that lead recipients to believe they are legitimate. However, legitimate financial institutions never ask for sensitive information through email, so do not reply to this type of email. If you think it might be legitimate, call the financial institution for verification.

Use filters. Web-based email services from your Internet or email service provider often automatically screen your emails for spam before they come into your inbox, sending known or suspected spam into your spam folder. If you want additional protection, you can purchase anti-spam software, anti-virus software and a personal firewall (software that controls the type of information that can be sent by and received from your computer). Be sure to check your spam folder regularly, because occasionally spam filters misinterpret messages and identify them as spam when they are not.

Buy your anti-spam, anti-virus or firewall products from a reputable security software company. Offers made through online pop-up ads or telemarketing calls might be fraudulent, or the software itself might contain malware or be of substandard quality.

Protect your email addresses. Set up and use a primary email address for your trusted business and personal contacts; create a secondary address for joining communities or engaging in other online activities. If you must post your email address to a Web site, don’t use the @ symbol; spambots search the Internet for email addresses so they can build their spam mailing lists. Instead, spell the address – for example, “yourname at domainname dot com.”

Disconnect from the Internet and shut your computer down when you are not using it. Some sophisticated spam programs can access your computer system anytime it’s connected.

Update your Web browser regularly. Check for and install updates when they become available. Browser providers are constantly looking for ways to make their software safer to protect their customers.

Sources: Canadian Consumer Handbook, Global Designs, Government of Canada