Spam and Virus FAQs

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  1. What can I do to protect my computer from viruses?
  2. What can I do to keep from getting spam?
  3. How does using BCC to send emails help combat viruses and spammers?
  4. How can I tell if an email is really from my bank (or PayPal or any other company) or if it is a fraud scam?

1 What can I do to protect my computer from viruses (and/or worms)?

The first thing that you MUST do is invest in a reliable AntiVirus program. There are several very good ones out there and the cost is minimal when you consider the protection they provide. In fact, there are even a few FREE AntiVirus programs available for downloading.

The second thing you
MUST do is keep the virus definitions for your AntiVirus program up-to-date. Most programs have settings that enable it to update automatically on a regular schedule (every day is not too often!). Remember, an antivirus program can only protect you against the viruses it has in the virus definition file!

Third, almost all viruses sent via email are sent as attachments. Thus, you should NEVER open an attachment to an email from a sender you don't know. In fact, since many viruses spoof the sender's name or address, it is wise to make sure that the sender did, in fact, send the attachment, before opening it.

Finally, there are programs available that allow you to check, read, and even reply to your pop3 emails directly from the server without downloading them. Many of these can not open attachments, but will often give you a filename of the attachment. While some of these allow you to read the Subject and From fields only, others let you read the first 99 lines of the email body. This is a wonderful way to delete suspicious emails without even downloading the mail!

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2 What can I do to keep from getting spam?

Spam can be defined as the mass mailing of unwanted emails, frequently in an attempt to sell you a product or service. It really makes no difference if the product is good or bad, the fact that it was neither requested nor wanted makes it spam.

There are several ways to keep from getting on the spammer's email lists, as listed below.

First, get yourself a "disposable" email address (this can be an alias that you set up on your domain, or a freebie email account such as Yahoo! or Hotmail). Use this disposable email to sign up for things on the internet instead of your everyday email address (this includes newsgroups, e-card sites, and even your address on your webpage). This way, if that disposable email address winds up on some spammer's list you can easily dump it and get or make a new one.

The next thing you should do has to do with forwarding emails. Many people forward almost every joke or cutesy email they receive to everyone they know. This is certainly not a good idea as not everyone wants to see the same jokes over and over in their email boxes. Now, that said, if you do decide to forward something, please list ALL recipients in the BCC field. If your email program will not let you send without an address in the TO field, then put your own "disposable" email address in that field. Next, before you click on that "Send" button, delete all the visible email addresses in the body of the email. This not only stops those email addresses from being sent all over the world to people they don't know, but it also makes it so the recipients you are sending to do not have to scroll for miles to get to the "meat" of the email. (While you're at it, you might want to be considerate and delete all the >> symbols as well!). This not only helps keep spam out of your email box but will also help keep you from receiving viruses. (Note: Please feel free to send this page to your email contacts so that they can help fight the spread of viruses and spam)

Now, I mentioned e-card sites in the last paragraph. Many of these sites are wonderful and do not "harvest" nor distribute email addresses, however, many do just that. And since we can not be sure whether they do this or not, it's just a good idea to never use your everyday email address on these sites. In fact, you should not put the recipient's email address in either! Oh dear me. You've found this wonderful e-card you want to send to your best friend in the whole world but Artful Illusions says you shouldn't put his email address on the card!! What are you supposed to do? The answer to that is quite simple really. Enter your disposable email address as both the sender and recipient. When you get the email that says you have received the card, simply copy that email and paste it into a new message to your friend. Now the e-card site has only one email address (your disposable one) to "harvest" and you have not taken a chance that your friend will wind up on some spammer's mailing list!

3 How does using BCC to send emails help combat viruses and spammers?

VIRUSES: Many viruses (and worms) do their dirty work by sending a copy of the virus to every address it can find in the infected computer's email program and address book. It is not uncommon to receive forwarded emails with as many as 200 email addresses visible in the body!

Now, consider the hypothetic computer user named Jack, whose computer is infected with a virus that propagates itself via email. And suppose, also, that Jack has received 3 of those forwarded emails, each of which contains at least 150 visible email addresses. Wow! The virus has struck pay dirt here! Jack's computer virus now has at least 450 email addresses to send a copy of itself to. If everyone would use BCC, there would be far fewer emails with viruses being sent out, and fewer infected computers.

One other thing is to make sure that your email client (Outlook Express, Incredimail, etc.) is not set to automatically add email addresses to your address book when you reply to an email. In Outlook Express if you click on "Tools", then on "Options", then on the "Send" tab you will see a check box labeled "Automatically put people I reply to in my Address Book". This box should be NOT be checked!

SPAMMERS: In addition, since email is not a secure form of communication, this method prevents email "sniffers" from harvesting email addresses for spam purposes.

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4 How can I tell if an email is really from my bank (or PayPal or any other company) or if it is a fraud scam?

Description: This type of email is known as phishing in the scammer community. The scammer sends out an email that looks like it came from a bank or other financial institution in an attempt to get you to divulge your account information. The graphics from the real website are stolen and then used to create a new site using the real graphics so the scam site looks almost identical to the real site.

The scam: The normal scam is to notify the recipient that the financial institution (bank, credit card company, PayPal, etc.) has noticed some sort of a problem, possibly with your account. The email asks you to either click on a link to go to the website to "verify" your account number and even your PIN or to fill in a form contained right on the email. Of course, the word 'verify' really means "Give me your credit card info so I can use your account to buy stuff and even get cash advances oh hey! maybe I'll even steal your identity, because you will give me all the information I need to do these things!." Incredibly, the recipient often fails to notice that he doesn't even have an account with that financial institution!

Protect Yourself! If you do find yourself looking at one of these email scams in your inbox, do NOT click on any links ... EVER! And, by all means, do NOT enter any information in an email form, no matter how realistic it appears!

If you do, in fact, have an account with the financial institution, and you think it might be real, you can always open your browser and go to your account the way you normally do (NOT by clicking on the link in the email!!!). If there really IS a problem with your account there will be a notice of such as you try to log in to your account.

Reporting the scam: If you wish to report it, you can generally forward the suspicious email to abuse@ ______, filling in the blank by the actual domain name of the financial institution in question. You can also report any suspicious emails to the Federal Trade Commission at The Federal Trade Commission has a wealth of information regarding spam, email fraud and identity theft on their website In particular, you might want to read the following FTC pages:
"How Not to Get Hooked by a ‘Phishing’ Scam", and
"Is Someone Phishing for Your Information?"

Always include the full email (including headers) when reporting spam or fraudulent emails. You can do this by forwarding the suspicious email as an attachment rather than as an inline forward.

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This page updated on 1/27/2011