As long as people have existed there has been someone out there plotting up new ways to con or scam you out of your possessions. Spam is more than just a nuisance filling up your inbox with useless junk. Spam can pose a real threat. Often spam e-mails contain links to malicious code that can infect your computer or mobile device. Those junk messages can also try and phish for information to later be used for identity fraud. They can also be a straight up scam offering you something that is too good to be true.
With the ubiquity of the internet ever present in our lives a breed of internet schemers has been born. How can you detect a scam? What can you do if you encounter one? How can reduce the number of unsolicited requests?
Should I Stay or Should I Go
While there is no single rule for determining if something is legit there are a few guidelines you can follow. Use common sense. Take the second to ask yourself:
- Is this from someone I know and trust?
- If it’s from a supposed organization (like the government, financial institution, charity) ask yourself is it normal for them to be contacting me by email, and not in writing or by phone?
- Is it professionally written without spelling mistakes or grammatical errors?
- Are they asking me for money or personal information?
- Promising something unbelievable?
- Look at the address and the links of the website or email do they match the place they claim to be coming from?
- If you think it’s not legit don’t open it! You can delete the entire spam folder without opening a single message. If you think it may be from someone you know and it’s misidentified as junk then do not click on any links, or open any attachements, unless you’re 100% certain it’s legitimate.
What if it’s not that obvious; go with your gut. If you have any doubts try looking it up on Snopes.com the definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumours, and misinformation. Even just Google it!
So you have determined it’s a scam what do you do?
Usually you can just delete the message or post. However, you can also be a good ‘netizen’ by reporting the fraud to the RCMP (firstname.lastname@example.org)! If you’ve already given out personal or financial information then start contacting your bank, credit bureau, and local police, in addition to reporting the email to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. The Get Cyber Safe initiative by the Government of Canada dedicated to frauds and scams with a wealth of information.
- In addition to being vigilant you can set up spam or junk mail filters in your email program. Web by Craig offers professional spam filtering at the server level for emails hosted by us. Add it to your account.
- Use a reputable email provider or client (e.g. Gmail or Thunderbird). They have up to date databases to identify and classify emails as spam.
- Use a primary email address for friends and colleagues and use a completely separate email address for online activities like filling out forms or joining online communities.
- Never reply to, or click on a “remove” or “unsubscribe” link in a suspicious spam message. If you do respond, it will confirm your address and cause you to receive more spam.
- Never click on any links in sketchy messages or on suspect websites.
- Keep your software and Operating System up to date.
- Make sure you have trusted anti-virus software which is updated and protects against malicious software (malware).
- Never click on any window that pops up on your computer screen claiming that your system has been infected.
- Don’t open attachments in your emails unless you know what you’re opening and where it’s from…
There are a billion and one different shams out there and there’s no better way to protect yourself than using your judgment. However, you can improve your judgment by educating yourself about some of the most common techniques and what you can do to protect yourself.
BONUS: Are people not receiving your emails because they are being marked as junk? Check the spammyness of your emails with this handy tool.