Most email users are becoming more knowledgeable about ‘email etiquette’ and the basic email ‘do’s and don’ts’, but there are some helpful tips to heed that can enhance our Internet experience and protect us from many of harmful viruses, Internet scams, and unsolicited commercial email, known as spam.
No doubt your place of employment has established some general rules of email use in the work environment, but when it comes to using your personal email account, whether from your home or from remote locations, there are some simple rules to follow that will make your online experience more enjoyable and more productive.
Maintain More Than One Email Account
Establish two or three email accounts, and designate each account for specific purposes. (This will not only save you a great deal of time and stress, but it will help to protect your personal information.)
Designate one email account specifically for your online payments. This makes it easier for you to maintain the security of your electronic purchases by exposing only one card online and allows you to monitor all your Internet purchases by viewing one credit card statement. If you are exposed to an identity theft scam, you’ll be able to discover it quicker and minimize the damages.
Designate another account for your online subscriptions, downloads, newsgroups, and general use. You will most likely receive an abundance of unsolicited commercial email (spam) in this account but there are ways to keep spam under control – as outlined in the following section, and these two previous accounts will help you to avoid unwanted email from being delivered to your personal account.
Finally, designate one account as your personal email account, and be stingy with whom you share this address with. That way, when you want to quickly check your email, you won’t have to wade through piles of spam just to read an email from a family member. Do not publish this email anywhere on the web or use it with chat rooms and news groups.
The Scoop on Spam
Two of your three email accounts will undoubtedly be targeted for spam. (The technical term for spam is “unsolicited commercial email” (UCE) that is sent in bulk without prior request or consent.) These mass emails often carry messages involving pyramid schemes, adult products, frauds, and computer viruses.
While it was first termed “junk mail”, today’s popular term of “spam” caught on with the public as a result of a TV skit on Monty Python where Vikings invaded a ‘dive restaurant’ and the word “spam” was used more and more frequently as the waitress spouted off each successive dish on the menu, similar to the way spam email seems to endlessly accumulate in your mailbox.
The first known spam email was sent on May 1st, 1978, by a DEC marketing representative to every Arpanet address on the west coast of the United States. The general public reaction was one of outrage, and it hasn’t subsided since. The majority of email sent on the net is spam, and the sheer volume threatens to bury the legitimate, everyday email being sent.
It’s important to note however; that even though spam is frequently used by scam artists, not all spam is fraudulent.
Legitimate marketers as well as con-artists have found the ability to quickly and affordably reach huge numbers of consumers through email too tempting to pass up. For criminals who don’t need to worry about actually providing a physical product or service, only a tiny fraction of the thousands or millions of email recipients need respond in order for the spammers to make a lot of money. It’s a shot in the dark for these swindlers, but there are more than enough con-artists and fraudsters who are willing to pull the trigger.
Spammers obtain email addresses by purchasing lists from marketing brokers who have “harvested” the addresses from various sources including: websites, Internet chat rooms, newsgroup postings, and online membership directories. The address list is then dropped into special software and the message is sent to thousands, and even millions of consumers. Depending on the software used, the spammers can even see who opened the email and then place those addresses on a new marketing list, subjecting them to more spam.
FTC Enforcement Action
The FTC has taken several steps to control deceptive spam. In 1998, the Commission set up a special email account to monitor spam and track spammers. Today, that account receives about 40,000 pieces a day. Three years ago, the same mailbox received about 4,000 a day.
No More Spam!
You can enhance your security and greatly reduce, or even eliminate the amount of spam you receive by diligently implementing and following the procedures and guidelines provided here:
1. Never respond to an email that asks for personal information (i.e., phone number, address, account information etc.)
2. Don’t display your private email address in public spaces, including chat rooms and newsgroup postings, on websites, or in membership directories of online services. (The most effective way to prevent spam is to never divulge your email address to third parties.)
If you enter a chat room or a newsgroup, disguise your email with nonsense words or use a temporary address.
3. Never send money to anyone who contacts you by email for any reason whatsoever.
4. Avoid opening or previewing any unsolicited email. (If you preview a spam email and it has an image link you are validating your email address, inviting even more spam.)
As tempting or enticing as those subject lines may be, don’t take the bait. Many times the subject may even sound like the email is from a friend or other trusted source. Some of the nastiest computer viruses have been propagated by consumers who innocently opened an email – along with its’ attachment – that had the subject: “Here’s the file you wanted,” or “Here’s my picture,” etc.
5. Always check the source of the email before you open it, and NEVER open an email attachment unless you know what it is and where it came from.
6. Finally, don’t click on the ‘unsubscribe’ or ‘remove me’ link. A spam filtering firm (MessageLabs) recently discovered that some spammers are sneaking special code into the ‘opt-out’ link that, upon activation, uses the victim’s computer to route more spam through. So, in addition to validating your email by clicking on a spam ‘opt-out’ link, you may also be downloading a Trojan that turns your computer into an open proxy for sending more spam.
Other variations of the attack place keystroke loggers on victims’ computers that enable the spammer to collect passwords and other personal information.
Stay informed of the latest Internet scams and hoaxes, and keep current on your virus protection software and security patches. The technology of the Internet is a tremendous achievement, but with every great technological accomplishment there comes a downside, and we need to be mindful of our vulnerabilities and take preventive action to fully enjoy the advantages that technology has to offer.