In terms of privacy, the only thing that’s safe to say is that nobody’s safe. If you so much as glance at a YouTube video, peek at a website, have a website, subscribe to anything online or even simply “like” something – boom! You’ve just given away a part of yourself. Your habits, your information – it’s all out there, and most aggravatingly, you’re now prone to be a victim of scams. Such as the one that was raised at our September Roundtable meeting – which triggered other scam stories.
One member – let’s call him Brian -- confessed that he was contacted for what seemed like a fabulous writing assignment from Biogen -- a perfectly legitimate biotechnology company. Problem was, the “assignment” wasn’t really from Biogen. After going through hoops filling out forms and providing some pretty private information, big red flags starting waving. It had to do with the "client" needing Brian to deposit money in a bank account. (Sorry, can’t recall the details, but you get the picture.) Fortunately, Brian then ceased all communication and suffered no real harm – other than wasted time and remorse for having been so trusting.*
How did this all happen? Could have been that the member’s email was “scraped” – a process where spammers obtain email lists from other spammers. If your email is on the net, you’re vulnerable. Now think of all the places where you’ve entered your email, hm? Let’s just say, lots. So I’d like to offer a few security tips, some from personal experience, some from what I’ve heard. While they aren’t guaranteed to keep you scam-proof, hopefully they could help prevent such occurrences.
1. When providing your email address, replace the @ with “at”. ” So it looks like: “Alice at gmail.com” I’ve even seen: “Alice at gmail dot com” Looks illiterate, but supposedly these obfuscations have some degree of success in foiling the scrapers. One drawback is that it may be annoying to business prospects. So this method is up to you. Click here to get more opinions on it.
2. Sender’s email is weird. Whether it’s seemingly from a prospective client, your bank, credit card company or any company you may have dealt with, if the sender is telling you to click on a link, DON’T! DON’T CLICK ON ANY LINKS. Look at the sender’s email address. It’s not Kosher if the address is totally different from the company it claims it’s from. For instance...
I received an email supposedly from my email provider, with their logo in the message area. Looked good! But uh-oh. They told me that my account “is about to be disconnected, so CLICK HERE TO REACTIVATE!!!” Their email address had nothing to do with my provider’s name. So, I immediately marked it as spam and trashed it.
3. But even if the email does have the “correct” name, it often can include some nonsensical figures, such as in the Biogen email, which was followed with a grouping of odd letters after the word “Biogen.” A dead giveaway. That being the case, trash it immediately or relegate it to “Junk.” You can also block suspicious emails.
4. What if the email does look totally legit? Closely examine the message area. It might look like a genuine logo or banner. But there’s most ALWAYS a tell. Misspellings. Grammatical errors. Odd wording. Case in point: Normally I get alerts from USPS when a package is being delivered. The other day I got a so-called alert from email@example.com. That email address sure looks like it was from USPS, no? But the legitimate alerts are always from “firstname.lastname@example.org” (Note: not “.net”) Also, within the message, “USPS” was written as “Usps.” Again, dead giveaway. Plus, the info in the message was unlike the usual messaging. Into “Junk” it went.
These are just a few of the warning signs that when not heeded, can open you up to computer viruses and worse if you click on the link they so desperately urge you to do. Be vigilant. The best rule of thumb is: Don’t click on anything or respond to anything that looks the slightest bit suspicious. Check it out by Googling. (*Google “Biogen scam” and it will come right up.) Or simply call the company that supposedly sent you the email. If it’s legit – or not – it’s safe to say, they’ll tell you so.
- Laura Stigler
Copyright 2011–2022, Independent Writers of Chicago
332 S. Michigan Avenue, #121–W686
Chicago, IL 60604-4434