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Your security and emails

For many people one of the best things about a computer is the ability to stay in touch with others, email has become a way of life. Unfortunately a lot of businesses look to use email as a way of advertising their products and services and this can be difficult to manage, embarrassing or even harmful.

Unsolicited email that you would rather not get is called ‘Junk’ email, or ‘Spam’.  Junk email can be just general advertising, information giving/opinion making or it might be a little more focussed on getting you to take some action.

There are a few simple things that can help you keep safe and secure and help to make sure that you only get the email you want.

  • Using security programmes (see Keeping your computer safe).  These packages include automatic SPAM filters.  They can spot a lot of fake emails and also allow you to quickly set an email to be ‘Junk’. In this way the filter gets better and better the more you use it.
  • Never click a link in an email unless you are very confident that it is safe.  Even people you know might quite accidentally send you information that can be harmful to your computer.
  • Be cautious.  If you get an email asking for your bank details or for personal information then it’s likely to be suspicious.  If it comes from someone you know then ask them to phone you.  Banks NEVER ask you for personal information – even if the email looks like it comes from your bank.
  • Don’t reply to emails unless you know who it is from.  Sometimes the act of replying will get your name added to spam mailing lists because the recipient will know that you are an active user.
  • Think.  It might seem obvious but ask the question “is it likely?”  Many emails are about people seeming to want to give you things, money, property, a free TV – is it likely?
  • Feel free to delete.  If you have a ‘junk’ option then use that (see 1), otherwise press the delete key, don’t feel guilty, don’t get upset or annoyed – just bin it.  Sometimes emails are deliberately provocative in order to get a response.

What are ‘Phishing’ emails?

Phishing is when an organisation is trying to build massive lists of email addresses often to sell to a third party.  They can do this in many ways including using a computer program to guess emails or a different program that ‘reads’ websites to extract email addresses.  These lists are then used to send ‘mail shots’ an email version of the post that often used to arrive through your letter box.   I’m sure that many people can remember post along the lines of:

“Dear <name>, you are one of only 10 people in <your street> who has been entered into a draw for a million pounds.”

If you respond to a phishing email you have inadvertently confirmed the email address is real and active and you are likely to respond to unsolicited emails.  This information is very valuable and also will open your email address to more unsolicited emails and possibly fraudsters looking to engage you to gather valuable financial information.

Here are some simple tips to protect yourself from phishing emails

If in doubt simply do not respond. 

A common concern for web users is the phishing emails designed to look like they are from the bank.  The Natwest Bank  provide examples of emails designed to look like they are from a bank so you can pick up tips on how to spot a fake.

How to handle junk emails

If you would rather not get ‘Junk’ email then you will need a system that looks at all the emails sent to you and deletes the ones that you don’t want automatically, this is called ‘filtering’.

Filters are very beneficial and most new email systems already have some form of filtering automatically in place.  The problem might arise that the filters are just not ‘clever’ enough to work properly, either they don’t filter enough and some ‘junk’ email still gets through or they work too much and actually stop some of the email you want.

One way around the problem is to use ‘allowed lists’ and ‘blocked lists’, sometimes called whitelists and blacklists.  If an email arrives in your inbox that you would rather not get then there is usually a way to quickly add them to a blocked list – often this would be simply marking the email as ‘junk’.  The reverse is true if you find email that you would rather keep than have in your ‘junk’ folder – simply mark it as ‘Not Junk’ and the address normally gets added to your ‘allowed list’.

Most computers have a help system on how to handle junk emails, if not the internet is a huge resource.  BBC Webwise offers additional information about dealing with SPAM including a useful short film.

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