One of the unfortunate aspects of doing business on the internet is that unlike traditional storefront community businesses, the internet is rife with individuals who prefer crime to honest business. These individuals can be sorted into three general categories, with different intent, but employing similar methods and getting similar results.
1. Malicious individuals. These are the scum that pass viruses through e-mail, or send e-mails that try to scam you into giving out information. Why anyone would send a virus is open to debate, but I believe the reasons are more akin to psychosis than anything else. Phishing e-mails, the ones that claim you are a beneficiary to a stranger’s will, or you’ve won a contest you did not enter, or that you need to click a link to log in to a financial account to correct something, are designed to trick you into sharing your personal information. The result of someone responding to these e-mails is invariably identity theft.
2. Unethical marketers. These are the individuals who pretend to be something or someone that they are not to try to trick you into doing something. These are the individuals who send spam without using a real reply to address, they do not use their real name, and they often have disclaimers that are completely false. These individuals also go into forums and online groups and post ads, without ever contributing to the discussions. They sometimes go so far as to harvest your own e-mail address and use it to spam you so if you try to block them, or remove them, you are actually blocking your own e-mail address.
3. Naïve newbies who are unfamiliar with proper marketing techniques and so engage in unethical and ineffective behavior. These individuals do exactly what the individuals above do. They simply do it because they don’t know any better. Unfortunately, since they don’t take the time to learn proper marketing methods, such unethical behavior can permanently ruin their reputations before they even get a chance to get started.
Protecting yourself from the behavior of these individuals can be challenging, but it is essential if you are working on the internet. Just one virus, or reply to a phishing e-mail can do immense damage to your computer and life. Here are some ways to protect yourself.
1. Make sure that you have top of the line anti-virus software installed and update it frequently. I prefer Norton 360, but there are others available. The best update automatically minute by minute and have active scanning going on without you noticing.
2. Have separate e-mail accounts for personal, business, and pleasure and keep them separate. When you get an e-mail that you don’t recognize it is safe to open it, but do NOT click on any links inside it. If you cannot remember signing up for something, but think you might have, then type the domain into a Google search bar. This will bring you to Google’s search page with information on the domain. From there you can read about the site before visiting it.
3. If you get a phishing e-mail (one that asks for personal information) do not reply and do not fill out the information. Any communication from Paypal (a frequent phishing target), your bank (another common phishing target), or any other high value institution will direct you to their secure (https://) server. They will never ask for your personal information or give you a link to click. If you are in doubt call them and verify whether they actually did send you a communication. If they tell you no, they will ask you to forward the e-mail to their anti-fraud department, something you should do anyway. Also beware of fake disclaimers with links that do not seem legitimate. Sometimes these links lead to a script that adds your e-mail address to another list.
4. If your e-mail address has been harvested and is being used to spam you, try to find the actual source of the e-mails in the header information. This will show the true identity of the sender by way of IP address, ISP, and location. Contact the sender’s ISP and ask them to help you stop the spammer. To deal with the e-mails themselves, since blocking the sender will block your own e-mail address, block the subject instead. This will cut down on the spam and reduce some annoyance.
Using these simple techniques to protect yourself can make a huge difference when doing business online. Knowing how to prevent viruses, how to work with e-mails, and how to avoid identity theft can literally make the difference between being safe and suffering a horrible fate that can literally ruin your life and destroy your financial situation.