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Preventing Mail Scams - How You Can Protect Against It

Congratulations! You are eligible for a pre-approved credit card; you have won a lottery ticket; you got free tickets for a vacation at XYZ… looks familiar? Almost everyone knows these are unsolicited junk emails that are intended for spam mailboxes. Emailing is a brilliant communication channel to keep abreast with the latest news and products along with keeping in touch with your acquaintances. However, there are many who get tricked and fall prey to email scams that feed on recipients’ emotions. Agreed that every email might not be malicious, it is equally true that phishing has been prevalent since the inception of the internet era. As the technology advances, cybercriminals also find new ways that appear to be legit and appeal to the need and greed of the recipient despite being fake. Spam emails that seem to be from government, financial corporations, charity or dating sites intend to elicit sensitive information and steal your identity or bank account.

The good news is that you can opt out from unwanted advertising communication by registering with consumer organizations at the cost of just a few dollars for a particular duration. It might seem difficult to outsmart the extraordinary cybercriminals but not impossible. With responsible behavioral practices and the intensification of protection against software/hardware vulnerabilities, you can shield yourself from mail scams. To avoid email/phishing scams you can follow the below practices...

1. Test Before You Trust:

Spam emails can reach you in the form of a hoax virus alert, charity events or advertisements for gambling sites, dating, pornography etc. It is ok to be skeptical. You must always try to identify fake emails by looking for warning signs like a missing sender’s name, a mismatch in the subject line and actual content, misspellings, urgent offers, attachments and executable files, request to forward emails to win money, etc. Alternatively, you can check if such email already is listed on the internet for scams/spam.

2. When in Doubt Contact the Sender (person/organization):

Many times scam emails seem so real that even a seasoned IT professional might get tricked. The email may appear from known sources like the tax department, bank or your friend. If you find something fishy about the email just pick up your phone and contact the sender to cross verify.

3. Control Impulsive Clicking of Hyperlinks:

The intelligent marketers want their audience to perform actions without thinking or raising alarm bells. If something seems to be off, listen to your guts. Do not click on links immediately. It’s not rude to be reluctant to click links or download attachments. Smart skeptics look for what the sender is asking you to do and slow down before acting.

4. Regularly Educate Yourself About Recent Scams:

It becomes easy to handle phishing attacks if you already know about them. Use reliable educational resources that keep you updated about current scams. Also, it is important to get continuously educated about the technology and techniques to prevent yourself from them.

5. Register with Consumer Reporting Companies:

In most countries, consumers can opt out from advertising emails with two options; permanently or for a specific time period. For e.g, if you live in the US you can register at the Direct Marketing Association's (DMA) consumer website and opt out from prescreened offers. This might be done for a yearly nominal charge of about 2 - 3 USD.

6. Verify the Site URL on Address Bar:

It is important that the website you are visiting is secured, especially if you intend to exchange confidential details over the internet. Make sure the website URL always begins with HTTPS and not just HTTP. “S” stands for secured as the data is transmitted through a legit and secure channel.

7. Avoid Sharing Personal details on Pop-Up Windows:

Always remember that unless the popup is from one of your trustworthy sites, it could be designed for phishing attacks. It would be great to block the pop-ups altogether in that case. Pop-ups are the most notorious tools used by phishers with an evil agenda so avoid entering any sensitive information there like your date of birth, social security number, etc.

8. Follow Standard Cyber Security Precautions:

Apart from avoiding the above mistakes it is always better to adopt a defensive mechanism to deal with mail scams. You can follow standard security measures like multi-factor authentication for all emails, setting strong, unique and random passwords, etc.

9. Backup System Copies:

Creating backup system copies serve as a recovery mechanism in undesired circumstances. Backing up your system protect you from phishing attacks as you can restore the data instantly.

10. Always Install Firewalls and Update the Anti-Virus, Anti-Spy and Anti-spam Software:

Reliable firewall protects against malicious codes infecting your system. Similarly, the latest versions of anti-spyware, antivirus software can help identify fake content and virus attacks by sending alerts from time to time.

Using common sense, not falling prey to our own greed and acting sensibly after receiving fake emails can take care of most scammers. In this digital era, the threat of falling prey to cybercrime is higher than ever and it is our duty to protect ourselves from it. Following the steps above can distance us from email scammers and provide us with the much needed peace of mind.

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