They have similar names and often arrive in your email inbox in much the same way (you didn’t ask for them) but spam emails and scam emails are two different beasts. One is annoying but relatively harmless while the other is malicious with the intent to steal sensitive information, spread malware, or extort money.
They can be annoying, especially when they keep coming and clog up your inbox or when they’re for distasteful products or porn. However, as annoying as spam may be, spam is generally considered harmless albeit undesirable.
They may not annoy you because you might not realize that what you’re seeing is a scam. For example, you may receive an email that genuinely appears to be from your bank notifying you of an urgent matter to take care of. Or perhaps, it’s UPS or FedEx with a tracking link or attachment with details for a package that’s on its way. However, before you click the link in the email or open the attachment, consider the possibility that it could be a phishing scam.
Fraudsters use email in several ways. One way is to point you to a fake website posing as a legitimate one. When you attempt to log into that site, you unwittingly reveal your username and password to the bad guys! Now, they can takeover your main account, locking you out and causing all kinds of chaos.
Another common tactic for scammers is to use email to trick unsuspecting victims into installing malware on their computers. Clicking an attachment, for example, can execute a malicious script that could take over your computer system, encrypt your files and hold them for ransom, or send scam messages to everyone in your contact list.
Another type of scam involves email but does not necessarily require you to click a link or open an attachment, but they’re scams nonetheless. For example, you may have “won” a large sweepstakes prize and need to call a special phone number to “claim” it. It’s low tech, but it’s also a classic scam.
No matter what form of action a scam email message prompts you to take, your best bet is to delete it and protect yourself from future scams.
The first order of business is to make sure that your computer is protected with a good, reliable antivirus program — and that it is kept current with the latest patches. Real-time protection is ideal, but even then, you should schedule regular deep scans. Next, become suspicious and consider the possibility that each email could potentially be a scam.
• Don’t click links in unsolicited emails. Type URLs into your web browser instead.
• Do not click on unsolicited attachments.
• If a friend or colleague sends you an attachment you’re not expecting, ask them about it before you open it.
• Don’t trust an unsolicited email even if it has personal information. Fraudsters may find information about you on the internet or social networks and use that information to build trust.
• Use strong passwords and change them frequently. Do not share them with anyone, for any reason.
• Use your email client’s image blocking feature to thwart fraudsters’ tracking pixels which may be embedded in images. When an image containing such a pixel is viewed, the originator is notified that you opened the message. Thus, your email address is confirmed as valid, and you may begin receiving even more scam emails.
• Beware of the unsubscribe option. While helpful when dealing with legitimate marketing messages, unsubscribing to a scam email only confirms that your email is valid.
• Use a disposable email address for newsletters and other items you might sign up for.
• Do not publish your email address on blogs, social media sites, websites, forums, or any other public location.
• Remember the old adage, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
These tips can help you to avoid becoming a victim of a scam, and they will also help stop annoying spam.