How to Avoid Frauds, Scams, and Viruses in Outlook 2019

By Faithe Wempen

For many, Outlook is their primary email application. As such, it presents a high threat for frauds, scams and viruses. You might have heard horror stories about people whose computers became infected with viruses, worms, and all sorts of other nasty things, and who had to pay a lot of money to get it cleaned up — if they could. These stories are real, and so is the threat. However, you can do some very basic things to minimize your exposure to such risks.

First, these are the threats to Outlook 2019:

  • Spoofing/phishing: These legitimate-looking email messages contain bogus links to websites that can trick you into providing confidential information, such as passwords and bank account data. Thieves then use this information to steal your identity and empty your bank accounts.
  • Viruses: These executable files (that is, program files) do destructive things to your computer, such as delete files or corrupt a disk. Watch out for files with an .exe
  • Worms: These program files or scripts use your computer to send out mass-mailings of spam without your knowledge or consent.
  • Exploits: These program files or scripts target weaknesses in your computer’s security to use it to send out spam or do other harmful things. These usually come from hidden utilities built into some websites.
  • Spyware: These hidden programs spy on your usage habits (including passwords you type, in some cases) and report them back to their owner via the Internet.
  • Adware: These hidden programs pop up ads on your screen, or change the behavior of your web browser to display its own ads.
  • Unwanted search toolbars: These add-on toolbars replace your default search tools with the search database sponsored by a certain company, so that the results of your searches bring up their sponsored sites.

Those are the threats you face. Now, look at how to face them down. Here are the top ten tips:

  • Windows comes with a basic antivirus program (Windows Defender), but you might want to get a more full-featured one that includes email scanning. Two of the most popular are Symantec (Norton) Antivirus and McAfee VirusScan. Most full-featured antivirus programs include incoming and outgoing email scanning. Keep that feature turned on. It will protect you from most viruses and worms attached to emails.
  • If you get an email with an attachment, be suspicious of it. Do not open the attachment until you verify the following:
    • Is the attachment from someone you know?
    • Were you expecting a file from that person?

      If the answer to either question is No, contact the person who sent it to you and find out what it is before you open it.

  • Never open any attachments that have any of these extensions (file types): EXE, COM, BAT, VBS.
  • If you get an email with an attachment with a ZIP extension, be extra suspicious. (A ZIP file contains other files.) One common worm infection distributes itself in a ZIP file that’s marked as an online greeting card, for example.
  • If you get an email message that appears to be from your bank or a government office, be very suspicious. Most banks and government offices don’t do important business via email. Instead, go directly to the organization’s website by typing its address into your web browser. Whatever you do, do not click the link in the message.
  • If you get an email message that appears to be from PayPal or eBay, be suspicious. These companies do sometimes send out legitimate emails, but phishing sites often impersonate those sites. Go directly to PayPal or eBay via your web browser; do not click the links in the emails.

    If a message from PayPal or eBay doesn’t address you by name, it’s more likely to be a fake. However, this isn’t a reliable way to tell.

  • If you’re not sure about a link in an email, point the mouse pointer to the link. A ScreenTip appears showing the actual address that the link is pointing to. If it doesn’t match the text on the link, it’s probably a fake.
  • Some unwanted search toolbars trick you into installing them as you install other software. You can usually get rid of them via Control Panel in Windows. (Right-click Start and click Control Panel and then under the Programs heading, click Uninstall a program. Scroll through the list of installed programs there and look for anything with toolbar in the name — and remove it.

    The Yahoo! and Google toolbars are okay to keep; these are legitimate. They’re optional, however, and a lot of people find that proprietary toolbars of any kind just gunk up their browser interface.