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E-mail is an electronic message sent from one computer to another. The use of e-mail has revolutionized communication around the world because you can communicate instantly with people everywhere. You can also attach other information such as photos, videos, documents and music to your e-mail messages. E-mail passes from one computer known as a mail server to another as it goes over the internet. The message is then stored in an electronic mailbox until it is retrieved on the other end. It’s a wonderful way to keep in touch with friends and family.

But, sadly, there are unscrupulous people who would use the huge amount of information transmitting through e-mail messages to try to commit illegal acts. They try to steal credit card numbers, addresses and phone numbers, bank account numbers, social security numbers and any other information that might enable them to steal from you or others. So it’s important to practice safe use of your computer and of your e-mail accounts.

Here are some common-sense rules to keep your computer free of viruses, keep you from unwittingly falling into online scams and maintain the health of your computer.

In general you should only open e-mails from persons you know. Once in a great while you will recognize the source of an e-mail and judge it to be safe to open. Be careful of opening an e-mail from a company or organization trying to sell products. Beware of e-mails offering wonderful “deals” or those that try to scare you into reading what they have to say.

Don’t open attachments if they seem at all suspicious. Be sure you have anti-virus programs running to protect your computer. Warning signs may be anything from asking for personal information to trying to sell you unsolicited services or products. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t open it. Sometimes you may even receive such an e-mail from a friend’s address. Their account may have been “hacked.” Don’t open the attachment.

Don’t send personal information to any unsolicited e-mail or web address. Your bank will never ask for account numbers online. Reputable companies won’t ask for your social security number or any other personal information. When in doubt, refrain from filling out personal information. Be especially careful when shopping online. You’ll need to judge whether or not you want to place your credit card number on a given site.

Install spam filters on your computer to remove “junk” mail. There are companies who send out thousands of ads to any computer not protected.

Don’t assume advice or instructions found online are meant to help you. They may be efforts to steal personal identities or personal information. Fake e-mails and scams are active on the internet. If a message sounds too urgent, too alarming, or asks you to give personal information or send money, delete the message.

Change your log-in password often. This measure alone will increase your security. Use a password with both numbers and letters as these are more difficult to break.

Never share your password. Legitimate businesses or other organizations will never ask for your password. Scams called “phishing” will try to get your online information for illegal purposes. They may mimic legitimate business forms such as banks or other trustworthy organizations. Beware.

Never reply to offensive or harassing types of messages. These are usually an attempt to get a response which may gain them information from your computer.

Limit the number of people you communicate with via e-mail. In general it’s wise to send and receive messages only to those you know well, such as friends and family.

In case you haven’t heard. There is no one in Nigeria who has money to give you. Don’t respond to any letter offering to give you a fortune if you can just send in a small amount of money for……anything. All such letters are scams and they do succeed with a small number of victims. Don’t become a victim.

The internet offers us so many ways to keep in touch with the outside world. And it’s a great way to communicate as long as we remember the safety rules. If you need assistance with setting passwords, understanding virus and spyware programs and how to install them, or any other question related to the use of your e-mail account go to Internet Safety.