Recently, a client mentioned that their employee had “the twitter virus” on their computer and they were wondering how to get rid of it. The employee had opened an email they thought was from twitter, which was so convincing that they clicked a link in the email. Unfortunately the email was not from twitter and the link took them to a website that placed a virus on their computer. The virus then placed pornography on their computer and told them they had to pay hundreds of dollars to have the virus removed. Instead of paying the ransom, they took the computer to a legitimate tech support company and had them remove the virus. The spammers did not make money on the transaction, but my client still had to pay out-of-pocket to have the computer cleaned up.
I am aware of these scams and was wondering how they were fooled so easily. The very next morning I opened an email from LinkedIn, clicked a link that indicated I had 8 messages waiting, and found out that I was not as careful as I thought.
So, let’s review ways to avoid viruses and scams from emails.
NEVER download an email attachment ending in .exe. Delete the email immediately! Files ending in .exe are executable files for the Windows operating system and those send by email are always up to no good. They can add a program to your computer that can do just about anything i.e. lock up your computer and require payment for it’s removal, copy your key strokes, and thus, capture your passwords, find financial information you store on your hard drive, or destroy your hard drive completely. The list goes on... Your friends and business associates will not knowingly send you .exe files.
MS Word and Excel files can contain viruses in the Macros section of the file. Microsoft typically notifies you when you open a file containing a macro and gives you the option to “disable” the macros. Someone may unknowingly send you a file containing a virus. Even if the file is from someone you know and trust, disabling macros will keep you from spreading the virus to your computer.
Look before you leap. Do not click hyperlinks in emails you did not request. If you receive an email from what looks like twitter, or facebook, or other organization that you have an account with, instead of clicking a link in the email, go directly to their website and login. Also, twitter, paypal, your bank, etc. will typically include your first name when they send emails to you. If the email is addressed generically, assume it is spam. Unfortunately, the email that fooled me was addressed to me. Usually I find spelling errors or something else is that not quite right that tips me off, but they did such a good job of duplicating LinkedIn emails, that I did not question it at all.
Check out the source code of emails you do not recognized or that look suspicious BEFORE opening them. Look for View – Source or something similar depending upon your email software. Look at the FROM email address and look at the web addresses in the hyperlinks. If they differ from the intended message, it is mostly likely spam.
Spammers add 1 pixel x 1 pixel images to their emails to track which emails are opened. If you open an email from a spammer, they will know it and they will send you more spam. If you review the source code of an email, decide it is spam, and delete it without opening it, the spammer will assuming the emails aren’t being opened and will hopefully take you off their list.
Your bank will NEVER send you an email asking you to click a link and update your personal information. If you receive such an email, most likely it is spam, but you can call your bank directly, and ask them for clarification if you are unsure.
Have you received email from someone in a foreign country asking you to help transfer money to the USA? Did they mention that they would pay you 10% for your help? Did you believe them? Yes? Then I have swampland in Florida I want to sell to you.
Want to know what really happens when you give your banking information to these people? They clear out every penny of your checking account as they laugh at your trusting nature.
Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, trash it immediately!
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