From the Actrix Online Informer July 2012

Can it be dangerous to open spam emails?

by Rob Zorn

These days spam is seen as a necessary evil of having an email address. No doubt you've received countless requests from Nigerian Princes (how many princes can one country have?) claiming they want to share millions of dollars with you. Either that or you've won a fortune in a Spanish lottery you've never entered, or some pharmacist has certain "growth" pills that'll change your life. Regardless, receiving spam is usually not dangerous in itself… but what you do with it could be.

Generally a spam email will be looking to achieve one of two things. The first is to install something (usually  some form of virus) on your computer, and the other is to get you to visit a certain site, where they will either try to get access to your personal information or swindle you out of your hard-earned money.

First things first – never click a link in a spam email, or any email for that matter, unless you're positive you know where it's going and you trust the sender. Simple.

Often you'll get fake emails from banks, especially Kiwibank for some reason, telling you to sign in to your account because it's been suspended or some such nonsense. This is a nasty trick to get you to enter your account details at a site mimicking the bank's site, which gives the spammer access to your money. As a rule, banks will never send you an email with a link to their website. If you ever suspect it might be a scam, but want to be sure, never use the link provided. Use Google to get to their website and sign in there. That way you know you're using the legitimate site. Or you can give your bank a call and ask them about the email. Use that same rule with everything, including Facebook.

A simple safe motto is "if in doubt, chuck it out". Delete that email without even opening it.

In the good old days, simply opening and reading spam emails posed no dangers at all. But as virus technologies got more and more sophisticated, this is no longer the case. Technically, the technology exists to allow a virus to install itself on your computer just from you opening an email.

While a scary thought, much has been done to prevent it from happening on your computer. A computer that is running up-to-date versions of Windows and Outlook won't have a problem because the most recent software has shut down the vulnerabilities these viruses exploit. Likewise, updated anti-virus software is ideal protection against viruses and other unwanted malicious software.

So here are a few simple rules for emailing:

  • keep your versions of Windows, and Outlook up to date by checking your Control Panel and setting to auto-update
  • keep your system clean of viruses and spyware by running anti-virus and spyware checkers on a regular basis. Keep those up to date too
  • never open an attachment unless you're positive you know what it is and that you trust the sender
  • never click on a link in an email message unless you're positive you know where it's going and that you trust the sender
  • Don't believe everything you read in email. PayPal and Kiwibank and whomever else will not be asking you to verify your account by email – it's most likely a scam to get your credit card number.




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