Protecting yourself from e-mail spam

If you have an email account, chances are you have received one or spam message(s). With the advances in technology, it is easier and cheaper than ever before to send email scams. Email account providers have complex computing resources devoted for just detecting spam messages. Their goal is to detect a spam message before it reaches your Inbox. However, they are not always successful thus your Inbox ends up with a spam message now and then. In this post, I will discuss number of ways you can protect yourself against such email scam threats.

Here are some clues that can help you identify that a message is a scam or spam:

  • An email requests you to provide your personal information. The information requested can be any number of things including your social security number, credit card or bank account number, user IDs, passwords, and so on. Scammers do their best to make the request legitimate. For example, they can include a company’s or bank’s logo so the receiver thinks the email came from their financial institution. Be aware banks and credit card companies don’t make such requests, especially in a random email.
  • In another variation of the above technique, you may be asked to provide such information after you click on a link that was in the email. The email itself probably did not include any obvious clues to alert you that it is a spam. This is perhaps what the spammers want you to believe. However, anytime you are asked to provide personal information carefully scrutinize the link. Analyze the link before clicking on it. Also, if you click, watch the landing page to make sure it is not a bogus website. Pay attention to the link (or URL), it should exactly match a real company name. Navigate to more than one page each time watch the URL for any changes. If the URL changes between the "www." and .com or ".org", you should be suspicious of the website.
  • You receive an attachment from an unknown person or a company. In this is the case, don’t open the email. If you do open the email, don’t open the attachment. Although the attachment may have a file extension such as .jpg or .gif to lead you to believe that it is a picture, it actually could be something else. The attachment may contain viruses or load spyware to your computer. The virus can do any number of things including gather information from your computer without your knowledge.
  • A message that supposedly is an official e-mail message probably is not if it has misspelling, bad grammar, or odd formatting. This should be an indication that the message is fake.
  • If an unsolicited e-mail claims that you have won a foreign lottery or requests a deposit or cash checks, it is probably a scam. This scam technique is used to one’s identity or funds. Protect yourself don’t fall for it.
  • The message is broadcasted to others. Look at the To, Cc (carbon copy), or Bcc (blind carbon copy) fields. If you see other email addresses in those fields or you see a message something like "undisclosed-recipients:", this suggests the message was sent to others as well.

Figure 1 shows a scam email message I received in January 2010. There are several clues that suggest why this message needs to be deleted:

  • The message was already flagged. It landed in my Spam folder.
  • The sender is completely a stranger to me.
  • The same message is broadcasted to others.
  • The first sentence is poorly worded.
Example of a spam/scam email message.
Figure 1 example of a spam/scam email message.

If you suspect a message is a spam, here is what you should do:

  • Do not click on any links within the email
  • Don’t open attachments
  • Investigate with the company that supposedly sent the "official" email. With your inquiry not only will you be able to determine whether or not the email is legitimate but also others may be alerted if the message was a scam.
  • Consider deleting the email message. Also, remember to delete the deleted email from the "Deleted" or "Trash" folder.
Posted on 10/15/2007
by Raj Singh