Staying Safe Online … While Using Email

October is National Cyber Security Awareness month, so every week in October we will be focussing on a different aspect of staying safe online.

This week we are going to talk about staying safe while using email. Last week, we talked about passwords. Obviously, this is a huge part of staying safe on email and social media accounts. Without a strong password, hackers can access your account and send messages or posts from your account to your friends and family. If a hacker accesses your email, they can then send emails to anyone you have exchanged email with, even if it has been years since you spoke with them. You can read our last post for more information on creating strong passwords.

An important part of keeping your information and your computer safe when using email is to only open emails and especially attachments in emails, from people you know. Often times, people will send viruses or spyware through links in an email. Sometimes, they will masquerade as legitimate companies. That is why it is also important to look at the address of the sender. If an email claims to be from the FBI, IRS, or any other government agency and the sending email address does not end in .gov, it is not a true email. Also, no company will ask you for your personal information over email. They will not ask for your account number, bank account, social security number or any other private information.

Some fake emails are pretty easy to spot, like this email that claims to be from Coca-Cola. It seems pretty plain for an email from a Fortune 500 company, doesn’t it? The “From” address also does not include the name Coca-Cola. Would a huge company not have their own website? These are things to notice before opening an attachment or clicking on a link.

Then there are others that go through great lengths to appear as though they are from the company, like this email from The Bank of Montreal. It certainly looks official, but it is asking for personal information. It is also trying to frighten you into sharing your information. Hackers know that if they can scare a person enough, that person will not hesitate to share their information.

It’s not just companies being impersonated that you have to look out for when using email; individuals will often also try to swindle email users out of their money. One of the most commonly known ways they try to do this is the “Nigerian Prince” scam. If you have been online for a while, you have probably seen this for yourself. In this scam, someone claiming to be a Nigerian prince (or some other title that implies they have money) tells the story of how he is exiled from his country and but has money available. He just needs to borrow a little money from you to get to his vast fortune. You give him the money and of course he’ll pay you right back. Sounds legitimate, right? Of course not. But when these scams first started appearing many people saw an opportunity to make some quick money. This brings us to something that’s very important when using email or any other internet service: Don’t believe everything you read. If something seems to good to be true, it probably is. Just like in the real world, people in the online world are not going to give you free money just for clicking a link or exchanging personal information. 

It can be confusing and even frightening to deal with all of these possible security risks, just remember: When in doubt, don’t click! Call the company to verify if possible. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to protecting your information.

We hope this post has shared some new information with you. Stay tuned next time for tips on staying safe while using Social Media.

We will also have an post about a new service coming to the library! Don’t miss out on this exciting news!