Protecting your e-mail account from fraud

December 26, 2008 Tara Gades received an alarming email. The sender appeared to be her friend Victoria. It had Victoria's address and her signature and the note was a cry for help.

"It said she was in Nigeria and she had run into some kind of problem getting out and her accounts had been frozen and she needed me to send her $2,500 to help her get out," Tara said.

Melinda Chichester, another friend of Victoria's, got the same email.

"As soon as I got it, I telephoned her and left a message on her cell phone," Melinda said.

Victoria received frantic phone calls from dozens of concerned friends

What appears to have happened is someone forged Victoria's good name and e-mail address by hacking into her account.

The perpetrator stole her password and changed her profile so that any return e-mails from her address would go to a different in-box.

"For a moment, I could feel my blood pressure rising, I could feel the anger coming up; I could feel this invasion of my personal life," Victoria said.

Fortunately, none of Victoria's friends actually sent money to the con-artist.

So take these precautions:

- Close your e-mail's preview pane; otherwise, you end up opening even suspicious emails, making your account more vulnerable to attacks.

- Also, install anti-virus software that scans attachments before they're opened and to get the most from this software, update the signatures. Make sure the e-email component is turned on.

- Make sure the passwords on all your online accounts are hard to guess.

- Change your passwords often.

- And it may be an inconvenience but create different passwords for different accounts.

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