Ask Stacy: How Do I Know When an Email Is Safe?

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Odds are you or someone you know is going to fall for an email scam. But avoiding email issues is easy – if you follow a few simple rules.

Those of you who have been around the Web for a while may find this question quaint, but actually, it’s a good one:

Dear Mr. Johnson;

I am actually fairly new to the internet, a friend of mine suggested that there are addresses that it is better to stay completely away from.  Especially responding to incoming mail.  Reason being viral problems, and I want to avoid scams.

Could I get you to provide for me a list of addresses to avoid especially responding to.  I really do appreciate the assistance.

Thank you for your time and energy.


Here’s your answer, Tony!

Most companies sending you an unsolicited, commercial email  are probably breaking the law. According to the Can-Spam Act 2003

(A) IN GENERAL – It is unlawful for any person to initiate the transmission to a protected computer of a commercial electronic mail message that does not contain a functioning return electronic mail address or other Internet-based mechanism, clearly and conspicuously displayed, that
(i) a recipient may use to submit, in a manner specified in the message, a reply electronic mail message or other form of Internet-based communication requesting not to receive future commercial electronic mail messages from that sender at the electronic mail address where the message was received; and
(ii) remains capable of receiving such messages or communications for no less than 30 days after the transmission of the original message.

What this legal mumbo-jumbo says is that any commercial enterprise sending email must include language that allows you to opt out of future mailings.

For example, take the Money Talks Newsletter. Here’s a cut-and-paste from the bottom…

You are receiving this email because you signed up at If you no longer wish to receive emails from Money Talks News, click here to unsubscribe.

If you click the “unsubscribe” link, I’ve got 30 days to take you off my email list (although with our mailing list you’re off pretty much immediately).

So if you ever get any solicitation from any company that doesn’t include a clear “opt out” link like the one above, they’re breaking the law. And anyone breaking the law certainly doesn’t warrant any consideration from you, period.

Note that I’m not telling you to actually click on the “unsubscribe” link, if there is one – you could merely be confirming your email address, which will in turn be sold to other spammers. But if there’s no notice like that on emails you receive, simply delete  them.

Additional safety tips:

  1. Don’t open unexpected attachments
    Viruses are often sent via email attachments. You should have virus-scanning software that scans your incoming email, but nonetheless don’t ever open attachments unless you’re absolutely certain you know what they are and who they’re from.
  2. Use spam filters
    Your email program probably has spam filters. If you’re not sure how to use them, go to the help section of your email software and type in “spam filter.” Make sure it’s activated.
  3. Beware of spoof emails or phishing
    Banks and other businesses know better than to send you emails requesting personal information. If you get requests like that, you’re being phished – thieves are attempting steal your identity. If in doubt,  call the bank or other institution directly and ask if they contacted you via email.
  4. Don’t send sensitive data in email
    Be aware that even in the best of circumstances, it’s possible your email can be compromised. If you’re sending something sensitive to someone, like your Social Security number, don’t. Call them.
  5. Avoid clicking on links in the body of an email message
    Unless you are completely comfortable that the email is legitimate, it is best to copy and paste the link or type it in directly in your browser.
  6. Guard your email address
    It’s a good idea to have two email addresses – one that you use for people you know and one that you use when you shop or deal with companies. If only your friends have your email address, at least you’ll know emails you receive at that address are more likely to be OK.

Bottom line, Tony? Like many people reading this, I get hundreds of emails every day. I immediately delete any trying to sell me something, unless it’s a company I signed up to receive emails from – very rare. About the only emails I read and/or respond to are those from people I know or people I want to know – like you and my other readers.

Hope that helps!

Got a money-related question you’d like answered?

Drop me a line! Just try to make sure your question will be of interest to other readers – in other words, don’t ask for personal or super-specific advice. And if I don’t get to your question, promise not to hate me. I do my best, but I get a lot more questions than I have time to answer.

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

I know... every site you visit wants you to subscribe to their newsletter. But our news and advice is actually worth reading! For 25 years, I've been making people richer without making their eyes glaze over. You'll be glad you did. I guarantee it!


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