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Dr. Lisa Lee Bryan

Since the invention of the Internet, users have been warned not to open emails from people they do not know.   Most users heed this warning so the email scam artists and virus spreaders developed a new strategy.   These destructive agents now pretend they are someone you know or should know.   Have you gotten an email lately from someone who has millions they really want to leave or give to you?  Have your received an unexpected email from your bank or credit card company needing you to click a link to keep your account from being blocked?   Have you received emails from your friends wanting you to click on a link to see pictures or get information?  Have you received a mysterious invoice?

Users ask me all the time – How do I know which emails are safe?  My comment is always – assume all emails are not safe.   Most people are careful who they allow in their front door but open emails from everywhere and click on links without researching the sender.  Emails should be screened and researched, as would someone knocking on the front door of your home.  Some simple tips will keep you from being a victim of email scam artists and maybe a very destructive virus.

Emails that promise to give you money or any kind of reward for responding are generally scams.  People are not wanting to leave you money or give you their inheritance via email.  These people are hoping to get your bank account information or get you to send them money.  You should delete these emails immediately and do not respond to their solicitations.   Some of these people may look very legitimate such as military, veterans, foreign diplomats, and celebrities.  Always remember that people can pretend to be anyone when communicating by email.

Phishing is a scam where someone tries to get your important security information via email.  You receive an email from your credit card company or bank that states that your account is blocked or will be blocked if you do not click on a link and give them information.   The email looks legitimate and so does the link.  Again, people can pretend to be anyone when communicating by email.   Other emails may appear to be from your Internet Service provider, phone company, cell phone company, and electric company.  Most of these companies will not send you an email about your account.  When in doubt, close the email and go to the Internet and log on to your bank, credit card company, cell phone company, etc.   Do not use the link in the email.   Those links will carry you to a fraudulent website that may look like your bank website or credit card website.   These fraud artists want to steal your identity and do this by carrying you to a fake website which asks you security and private information.   Before acting on these emails, call your provider and ask them did they send you an email.   Lately, some of these scam artists have been using text messages on your phones too.

The old warning of not opening emails from people you do not know is outdated.  You must also scrutinize the emails from the people you know.  I receive dozens of emails daily from people I know with links or files that contain viruses.  My friends and family do not intentionally send me these emails.  Their email accounts, Facebook accounts, and computers have been hacked and someone is doing this for them.   When I receive an email with a link or file, I take a few moments to respond and ask did the person send me the email and what it contains.  If you do not hear back, they probably did not send the email.  If they respond that they did not send the email, advise them that someone is sending out emails in their name.

Several tips can help cut down on these emails.  First, be careful where you post your email address.  Second, invest in a reliable spam blocker.  Spam is “junk mail” in the email world.  Contact your email or Internet provider to ask if they have a spam-blocker  they recommend or include.  Third, look at each email carefully and do not react impulsively on the contents.   Research the emails before reacting to links or files that might be included.   Protecting your computer and your identity is worth the additional time.   Your friends and family will not get their feelings hurt just from you asking – did you mean to send me pictures or a link?

Dr. Bryan is the Program Chair of MIS/Data Analytics at CSU-Global

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