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How to be safer online: Email

Email has become a popular tool for identity thieves and fraudsters. Jason Scuglik offers tips on how to use it and protect your personal financial information. Jason spoke with Joel Dresang as part of a series of Money Talk Videos. A transcript of their discussion follows.

Joel Dresang: Jason, we’ve been talking about how computer users can be safer with their personal financial information. Let’s talk about email. That’s a convenient way for you and I to communicate. We can send attachments and links. But there are security concerns, right?

Jason Scuglik: Yes, there are security concerns we need to think about. Email makes it easy for us to communicate with just about anybody around the globe. But that same ease of use makes it easy for criminals to communicate back with us.

Joel: What’s our biggest concern?

Jason: It’s important for us to know who’s sending the email message to us. With an electronic communication such as email, we’ve lost our natural ability to use our defense mechanisms, such as listening to a person’s tone or watching their body language to help us determine whether that person and their message is trustworthy.

Similar to how you’d be skeptical of a stranger just showing up at your door off the street, you should treat email from unknown persons with a similar level of skepticism.

Joel: But sometimes people we know – or it looks like it’s from people we know – will send us email, and they’ll include links. What sorts of precautions should we have about those?

Jason: Don’t click links. In the email, there’s no guarantee that what you see on the screen is actually where that link is going to take you. It’s a good idea to hover with your mouse pointer over that link and have a little window pop up to show you where it’s actually going to go.

But you don’t want to trust that that link is going to actually take you where you want to go, even if it looks like it’s important. If your bank sends you an email that tells you that there’s a problem with your account, go ahead and just head over to your bank’s website and log in normally. If that information is important for you to know, it will be available for you in your account.

Joel: What about attachments? Are those any safer?

Jason: No, unfortunately, you really want to beware of attachments, Joel. Those are files that are attached to an email, and those files could contain viruses or other malware, and you really want to avoid opening those in an email, even if they look important.

It would be very unlikely that your child’s teacher would send you an invoice for something through email. If you’re in doubt, the best would be just to pick up the phone and give that person a call.

Joel: So we’ve been focusing on email that we’re receiving. What about the email we’re sending out? What sort of precautions should we take?

Jason: It’s important to know who you’re sending to. Email is not a secure form of communication. And when I say that, what I mean is that there’s no guarantee that between you and I that nobody else is going to intercept that message or that you are the person who’s actually sitting down at the computer on the other end and reading it.

It’s important to protect your sensitive information, and not send things through email like credit card numbers or social security numbers. If you need to communicate that with another person, use a secure portal. That’s basically just a website that allows you and I to securely share information back and forth.

Joel: Great. That’s been very helpful. Thanks. We’ve been doing a series of these videos. We’re posting them on our website at Landaas.com, as well as on this YouTube channel.

Learn more
How to be safer online: Computer use, a Money Talk Video with Jason Scuglik
How to be safer online: Passwords, a Money Talk Video with Jason Scuglik
Don’t let ID thieves get your money too, by Joel Dresang
Freeze: Chilling effect on ID theft, by Joel Dresang
Consumer Information on Identity Theft, from the Federal Trade Commission
Credit Freeze FAQs, from the Federal Trade Commission (en Español)
Identity Theft and Your Social Security Number, from the Social Security Administration
Identity Theft Information for Taxpayers and Victims, from the Internal Revenue Service

Jason Scuglik is information systems administrator at Landaas & Company.
Joel Dresang is vice president-communications at Landaas & Company.
Money Talk Video by Peter May and Jason Scuglik

(initially posted Dec. 12, 2017)

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