Dear Mom: Email Safety 101


Email Safety 101, How to not get scammed or viruses via email.

How to not get a virus or scammed via Email

I received a call from my very non tech-savvy mom the other day and she's all flustered and upset that she did a scan on her computer and it told her she's got errors and viruses and pop ups. Chant "Errors, and viruses and pop ups, OH MY"... To think we used to be scared of lions, tigers and bears. It's crazy how bad this stuff is for our continued computer use.

So I've been trying to explain why she shouldn't pay to have this all fixed, given she's just going to get them back because she doesn't understand what is okay to click on and what will give her a terrible computer virus. I feel bad because many many people aren't used to technology scams, especially the people that didn't grow up around computers. And many of the scams are clever enough to catch even the more savvy computer users. But when you're unfamiliar with the technology it's easy to not understand how you're getting taken. I remember "my uncle" sent us an email a couple years ago saying he was in a foreign country and needed us to wire "him" money because he can't leave as his money all got stolen.  There's really so many very clever scams and occasionally they hit on the right victims to pull it off- ie. my uncle travels a lot so I did a bit of a double take. I knew I wouldn't be on the list of people he called for money though so I knew it was fake. There's also all these scams that are done via other technologies (ie. phone). 

Two common scams that seem to get the non tech savvy... (Gosh someone's making a fortune):

1. Someone calls your house and says they're from IRS and you owe them money... or "Microsoft" calls to tell you that you have viruses. Then they ask you for information or payment, etc. Unless you're Bill Gates and owe the IRS a LOT of money, the IRS just isn't going to be calling you on the phone. And if you've ever tried to receive tech support from Microsoft (or any company really, these people are busy enough), do you really think it's feasible they'd call you? No. Whenever you're not sure and something sounds fishy... Do a quick web search for what the person is telling you. You'll probably come up with a bunch of hits that say BEWARE OF THIS SCAM! 

...speaking of web searches to find out what's a scam, brings me to popular scam #2...

2. Someone asks for your Paypal account after you post a Craigslist ad. They don't want to see the item. They hired a go between to pick up item. They're deaf/blind/etc. Basically they're trying to present an "weakness" (that you won't ask questions about) to tap into your empathy so they can take advantage of you. This really ticks me off. Anyways- my father-in-law asked about setting up a PayPal because someone wanted to buy their used car using PayPal- guy couldn't get it himself because he was deaf or something to that effect. I started answering about how to setup Paypal, then suddenly asked about what buyer said in email. "Oooohhh..." A quick web search and I was able to find multiple hits about this scam and various versions of it. It's not to say Paypal isn't safe, but there are apparently ways to run scams using it. That's all you need to know. I use Paypal all the time, safely, via stores online and people I know. It generally works out fine. You just need to sniff out the cons. When I post Craiglist ads, I find it's helpful to look for "humanness" in the responses I get to the ad- the person asks questions about the product, they say they can meet me somewhere public, they say they can't make it until after the kids get out of school. More on Craigslist on another post. 

Okay so that's the scam piece. Please don't fall for suspicious stuff. I KNOW that my mom and father-in-law had alarms going off in their heads, just based on how they mentioned the topic to me. But I sense that due to their (dis)comfort level with the technology, they dismissed those warning bells as themselves just being uncomfortable with the technology. LISTEN TO YOUR WARNING BELLS.

So let's review some of my junk mail to help work on identifying spam/scams easily. 
The pink writing is my notes. The yellow sections are just where I "whited out" information that I didn't want to share (ie. other people's email addresses). 

Photo 1: Displayed on the right here is an example of a scam/spam email that will give you a virus.

Warning Signs:
  • I don't know the person who sent the email to me.
  • There is no email content besides the link and the person's name. Most people (real people) are going to write something of substance when they email you something. "This is funny" is not "substance."
  • Check out the link... at the end it says .php. HUGE warning sign. .Exe files are off limits too. That means you'll download something that will run a program on your computer... that program is not something you want. 

Photo 2: This is an email that my Mother-in-Law "sent" that was really a virus.

Warning Signs:
  • You'll note "she" sent it to two different Danielle's... that's because she sent it to both my email addresses. Someone who knows me won't do that.
  • Again, random link with no content to the actual email is usually a big warning sign.
  • I checked out the link itself... does this look like something she'd send me? Eh no. I remember the last time I got one of these from her it was a porn web address (I assume, based on the text of the web address)... I chuckled because I knew my mother-in-law wasn't sending me porn.
  • I also always check the email address... sometimes the person's name is on "from" line, but when I look at the email address itself it's not their email address. Usually you can click on their name to show the email address.

    NOTE: If you think the email could actually be legit, a simple text message or phone call to the person to inquire if it's legitimate is worth the time. It also helps them because they can change their password on the account if it isn't something they sent. 

 Photo 3: Craigslist Scam

Warning Signs:
  • See all the pink? Alllllll of that. Okay let me expand on that...
  • "I'm ready to pay your asking price"... I was selling a car. They didn't ask anything questions about it, they didn't want to see it? Come on, seriously.
  • They conveniently are unavailable... at sea... and have a "mover" coming. Who actually "has people" to pick stuff up for them? Nobody who is buying a used car. Haha. 
  • They want to pay with PayPal... I'd love to understand how they're working this scam, but long story short- don't do it. I do use PayPal for lots of things, but only when I know the person is legit.What little I comprehend of this scam is that PayPal protects the buyer more so than the seller... so the seller can "pay" then file a claim through PayPal saying you screwed them over somehow and they get their money back. I'm not sure if these scammers take the product too. Don't know, don't care. I just don't waste time on these emails. 

Photo 4: Craigslist Scam #2

Warning Signs:
  • They emailed me saying Craigslist wasn't relaying their message to me. Um...

    ...that said, I did reply to this person and gave them my "spam" email address to contact me (I believe that resulted in Photo 3). I have a special email account that I made for spam and I use it for times like this when I figure it might be good to respond just to make sure they aren't a legit person who just doesn't know how to use their computer.

In Summary: Always ask the person you're receiving the email from if it's legit before you open it if you think it might not be from them. Be conscious that scams and viruses and all those good things ARE out there, with limitless resources. I open the majority of my email with no issues... and even most bad emails can be opened- just DON'T click on links or attached files.

Did I miss anything? Does anyone have questions or anything to add?
Have you ever been taken by a scam?


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DIY Danielle: Dear Mom: Email Safety 101
Dear Mom: Email Safety 101
Email Safety 101, How to not get scammed or viruses via email.
DIY Danielle
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