Who sent the message?
If you were not expecting something from a family member or friend, it may legitimately be from them, or it could be that their account was hijacked and the message is actually being sent by a cybercriminal hoping to infect your computer and/or steal your information. The easy way to discover whether it is actually from your friend or family member is to call, text, or email the sender and ask.
Be especially wary of emails from friends and family that a) have no subject line, and b) only contain a link or attachment. This is usually evidence for a hijacked account. Be sure to call the person who purportedly sent you the link to discuss the message with them.
If the message and attachments or link come from a company, there is a different set of questions to ask.
Do you use this company?
If not it is probably junk, or worse, a scam.
If you do use the company, were you expecting to receive an email, or other message from them? For example, if you just ordered new work pants and you immediately get an email from the company you purchased the pants from saying here is a copy of your order, it is most likely safe.
If the message comes from a company you do business with but you did not just contact the company, it is time to ask another question.
Why was the message sent?
Any message from a company asking you for sensitive information, telling you to download and fill out a form, telling you to click on their link, or asking you to check out their video or photo is highly suspicious. Always check these messages out before taking any of these actions, and never use information they provide when checking them out.
If the message wants you to link to their site to fill in information, don’t. Instead, using a search engine find the company’s site, log into your account and see if the same questions or requested actions are mentioned there If they aren’t, you know the message was a scam. If the same instructions appear on your account, use the legitimate site to respond – never the link you got in email.
Never use the phone number shown in the message as it may also be fake.
While it can be tempting to just hurry through your email, IM and text messages, haste makes mistakes. It is better to slow down, and take the time to consider the message, check to see if it is legitimate, and act on your own rather than on something you are being steered towards.
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Since then I have learned a few things. Now I always use a very secure password and all my passwords are different. I watch for phishing site tells and use anti-phishing technology wherever I can.
I also never send a link or attachment without also including something personal like, "When I watched this vid I thought about the karaoke night we all bombed :P" or "I think you and Frank might like something like this on your trip." I tell all my friends to expect these kinds of personal comments from me. Hackers can't spoof specifics like this, so if my email account ever sends everyone a message with a link but no "flavor" they know it's not me. This way I can help protect my contacts too.
I have two email addresses from AOL to which I can report suspicious emails. One is Compromised @ abuse dot aol dot com and the other is abuse @ aol dot com. Now, I routinely forward suspicious repetitive emails to AOL. I'm told it works ... eventually. We'll see. Check with your ISP and see of they have a spoofing site. If so, use it.
I've gotten a number of very convincing looking emails purportedly sent by my bank and by other banks. Some of them are incredibly authentic loooking, with logos and everything. I have a list of spoofing sites for various banks and always forward these emails to them. They are usually very appreciative and will follow up.
Never click on "unsubscribe" if you've opened a suspicious email. Clicking "unsubscribe" may eliminate the suspect email (probably not), but it certainly opens the door to a host of new suspicious emails. Clicking "unsubscribe" validates your email address, particularly if you type in your email address before clicking "unsubscribe." Don't do it.
I was at one time getting a lot of emails from someone purporting to be a highly placed individual in the Benin Republic or Indonesia or Ghana, advising me I have been sent a trunk containing millions in Swiss francs. I was told I was elected to be the repository for the trunk and would receive a percentage. All I needed to do was forward my personal information and the trunk would be delivered to me. Folks, if you believe that one, you're in real trouble and you should immediately make an appointment with a good psychiatrist! 😃