How to recognize and avoid email scams

Email scams phishingIt’s likely that you consider yourself a fairly sophisticated computer user, and you probably are.

But the unfortunate truth is that experience and education does not always equal protection. That’s because cybercrooks are almost assuredly one step ahead of you. After all, they scam people for a living—and you have other things to do. You are in good company if you have already fallen for any of today’s best cyberscams.

Suspicious email is one area we should all make part of our continuing education—because that’s a great way to avoid ransomware and other scams. There are three types of emails to watch out for:

Spam: These days, most of us are pretty good at recognizing old-fashioned spam. Suspicious emails in this category include:

  • Chain letters
  • Business opportunities
  • Offers of free money
  • Health claims – fountains of youth, fast weight loss

Solution: Delete them and never open their attachments.

Phishing: Now it gets a little tougher. Here’s a quote from the U.S. government’s cybersecurity readiness outfit, The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT).

“Phishing emails are crafted to look as if they’ve been sent from a legitimate organization. These emails attempt to fool you into visiting a bogus website to either download malware (viruses and other software intended to compromise your computer) or reveal sensitive personal information. The perpetrators of phishing scams carefully craft the bogus website to look like the real thing.”

The way to notice a phishing scam is to be hyper-vigilant. If you do not normally receive email from this source, well that’s the first red flag.

Trojan horses: A Trojan horse email promises something friendly or important – an attachment with a “cool video,” a joke or photo, or maybe something more serious, such as an online security patch for your software.

US-CERT advises that you can take the following precautions to keep your inbox safe:

  1. Create and use a spam filter.
  1. Do not trust unsolicited email. “Never open an attachment to unsolicited email. Spammers may also use a technique in which they send unique links in each individual spam email.” Do not click on links found in suspicious or unsolicited emails.
  1. Treat attachments with extreme caution. “Email attachments are commonly used by online scammers to sneak a virus onto your computer.”
  1. Don’t click links in email messages from people that you do not know.
  1. Buy and install antivirus software. Keep it up to date. “If possible, you should install an antivirus program that has an automatic update feature.”
  1. Install a firewall and keep it up to date “A firewall will not prevent scam email from making its way into your mailbox. However, it may help protect you should you inadvertently open a virus-bearing attachment or otherwise introduce malware to your computer.”
  1. Configure your email client for security. “There are a number of ways you can configure your email client to make you less susceptible to email scams. For instance, configuring your email program to view email as “text only” will help protect you from scams that misuse HTML in email.”

Even antivirus software vendors say they cannot prevent all malware, including ransomware. In 2016, the name of the game is backup for data protection. A long list of independent IT analysts and experts this year have named backup as the number one defense against ransomware. Together with knowledge, and the right amount of caution, the combination of antivirus software and reliable data backup is the smartest defense.

For even more ransomware news and information, visit the FightRansomare.com homepage today!

Steve StraussAbout Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss is often called the “most popular small business columnist in America.” The senior USA TODAY small business columnist, Steve is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, ABC News, Yahoo, and many other outlets. He is a best-selling author of 17 books, including The Small Business Bible and is a recovering attorney who regularly speaks around the country and around the world about entrepreneurship and global trends in business. Steve is also often asked to be the small business spokesperson for companies like Microsoft, Bank of America, Dun & Bradstreet, Staples, and so on. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Small Business Connection, and sits on the board of the World Entrepreneurship Forum and the national advisory boards of SCORE and P&G Pro. Whether it be blogs, video, live streaming, e-books or what have you, his company, The Strauss Group, creates cutting-edge business content for everyone from Fortune 50 companies to small chambers of commerce. His latest venture is the tech startup, TheSelfEmployed.

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