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Protecting yourself from spam

August 2011

  • Lock on top of a computer keyboardIf it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. E-mails claiming that you’ve won big money if you only answer a few personal questions are usually bogus. They’re typically a tool for swindlers to trick you into turning over personal information that they can use to steal your identity or for other fraudulent purposes.
  • Be wary of e-mails that look like they were sent from a bank, an online payment system or other well-established and reputable websites. Some imposter websites look like the real deal because fraudsters have pasted in a familiar company logo. But even if a message looks legitimate, it can link to a phony website run by a scam artist. In so-called “phishing” hoaxes, fraudsters try to fool you into turning over valuable information, such as a credit card number. Reputable businesses never send you e-mails that ask you to verify your personal or financial information online.
  • Spelling and grammar mistakes used to be easy clues that an electronic message could be a scam, because legitimate businesses generally take the time to get it right. Being highly adaptable, however, scammers are improving the quality of their language, so as not to raise red flags. If you’re in doubt, phone the organization to discuss it further.
  • When you buy an online product or service, be on the lookout for those tiny checked boxes, often hidden near the bottom of the websites, which state that you are giving permission for promotional e-mails to be sent to you. You should uncheck the box if you do not wish to receive messages from that source.
  • Anti virus programMake sure your computer is protected by spam filters and anti-virus programs and that those protections remain up to date.
  • Don’t open attachments in any e-mail messages if they appear to be suspicious. They may be harbouring malware (malicious software), which can jeopardize your privacy or hijack your computer. Malware can even come from your friends or other known sources if their computers have been infected. If you are in doubt about an attachment, you should check with the sender before opening it—but not by replying to the e-mail directly. Instead, use the phone, or talk to the sender in person.
  • Never reply to spam or click on website links contained in spam messages. Responding to spam only helps it thrive. By replying, you are confirming that your e-mail address is live and in use. This information can be used for nefarious purposes. Moreover, the original scammer can profit further by reselling your address to other spammers.
  • Only forward e-mails when you are sure about the source. Otherwise, you are putting your contacts at risk.
  • Keep two e-mail addresses – one for your regular contacts and another for activities such as online shopping. That way, you can easily change your second address if you find yourself bombarded with spam.
  • If possible, avoid sharing your email address online on websites, social networking sites, blogs or in chat rooms. This can be easy prey for electronic address harvesters who make a living trolling the Internet for email addresses and selling them to spammers. If you need to provide your email address online, consider “masking” it by spelling out the “@” and “.” signs (IE janedoe at emailservice dot ca). This will make it harder for harvesting software to identify and ensnare your address.
  • Report any unwanted spam to the federal Spam Reporting Centre. Also, report any suspected spam-related fraud, such as identity theft, to police.
  • For more information on Canada’s anti-spam law, please visit
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