The Information Technology (IT) Office recently wrote a brief article on a new phishing attack that was making the rounds of our email system. After news of this story broke we have been contacted with questions about what to do when these kinds of messages appear in everyone’s inbox. We have also seen a marked increase in forwarding of suspicious messages to the IT Office staff with requests for assistance.
The IT Office is always willing to help out when you have questions about the email system. In this case however, there are a few built in tools in Gmail that will help you help yourself. This is a much quicker solution than waiting on the IT folks to respond to your message.
Here’s what you should do when a suspicious looking email message appears in your mailbox:
Step One – Don’t Panic!
If you receive an email from someone that you don’t know, about a subject that involves you disclosing personal information, then it is probably a scam. The Gmail system scans email for viruses and any other programs that may be attached. It looks inside of your email to find anything suspicious, stripping the offending attachments. Simply reading an email likely will not cause damage to your computer. Clicking a link in an email to a website could prompt you to download viruses or some other offending software. You should be careful about clicking any link in a random email message unless it is something that you really need to see.
Step Two – What Should I Do?
Your first thought might be to forward the message directly to the IT Office. While we are happy to help provide advice on an individual message, 99% of the time the answer is to ignore the message. As long as you don’t click any links or give away your login credentials you should be fine.
The Gmail system has a Report Spam feature where you can help teach your mailbox to filter these illegitimate messages. If you receive an email that you do not think is legitimate then select the message and click the Report Spam button.
The Report Spam feature will move the offending message to the Spam section of Gmail. Anything left in this section will be automatically deleted after 30 days. Any time you mark a message as spam the Gmail system will learn to start flagging them in the future. Using this feature is the best way to protect yourself from these types of email attacks.
- NPR podcast on the history of the Nigerian Email scam - http://www.npr.org/2013/05/22/186048342/how-that-nigerian-email-scam-got-started
- How to identify fraudulent email and phishing schemes - http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/outlook-help/identify-fraudulent-e-mail-and-phishing-schemes-HA001140002.aspx
- How to detect a phishing email - http://www.bu.edu/infosec/howtos/how-to-detect-phishing/
- How to spot an email hoax - http://urbanlegends.about.com/cs/nethoaxes/ht/emailhoax.htm