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Email Safety Basics

How to stay clear of spam, viruses and phishing scams

Adopt the following practices to keep you safer every time you email:

  • Don't share. Never share sensitive personal information such as passwords, Social Security numbers and credit card numbers in email. Even if you email this information to a known person or business, it can be intercepted along the way. Pay attention if you use an automatic email signature. This is a handy feature that automatically provides whatever signature information you choose to share. Many people include their full name, address and phone numbers in their signatures. But if it's inserted in all your email responses, you might be sharing more information with people you don't know than you intend to, especially if your friends forward your email to others.
  • Consider who you want to email. Just because someone sends you an email doesn't mean you need to read it or respond to it. You can set up your spam filters to be fairly restrictive and then check your junk mail folder periodically to see if something important accidentally got blocked. (If you aren't sure how to do this, consult the Help documentation for the email program you use.)
  • Think twice before you open attachments or click links in email. If you don't know the sender, delete the email; if you do know the sender but weren't expecting an attachment, double check that he or she actually sent the email. If your friend didn't send you the attachment, delete the message. If his or her computer is infected with malicious code, it may automatically send you emails (without her knowledge) with links or attachments in an attempt to infect your computer as well.
  • Talk to your friends about their online security. If they don't protect their computers from viruses, spyware and other malicious code, they put you at risk every time they send something to you.
  • Report offensive, inappropriate and illegal material sent via email to your ISP (Internet service provider). If the content is illegal, you should also report it to your local law enforcement agency.
  • Be cautious about meeting online contacts in person. You may know certain people only through email or contact on a website. Just remember that everything someone tells you about himself and his motivation for meeting you may be completely true — or completely false. If you decide to meet someone, don't go alone, make sure others know where you're going, meet in a very busy and public place, and keep your cellphone handy.
  • Consider what you're saying and sharing in email and how you'd feel if the information was shared with someone other than the recipient. Anything you say in email can be forwarded to others or monitored by employers or other family members.