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CONSUMER ALERT

Unless source certain, think before you click in e-mail

When it comes to scams, e-mail is the most efficient form of delivery. It also can be the easiest place to spot a scam.

I’ve twice been offered, this week alone, the opportunity by high-ranking officials in Ghana and Nigeria to hold vast amounts of money for them in exchange for a piece of the action. Thankfully, after many years of such e-mails, the vast majority of consumers can recognize those scams without thought.

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But I’ve also received what appeared to be a confirmation e-mail from Delta Air Lines for a flight I did not book (they want you to click the embedded link) and a survey purporting to be from Target.

Those e-mails were not as obvious as scams. The giveaway? Neither used my name. That’s a way to recognize all sorts of scams — from e-mails pretending to be from your bank to those that read as follows: “Dear Customer, Your E-mail account has exceeded its limit and needs to be verified.”

If you’re a customer, the company ought to know who you are. And that’s where the data breaches change the game.

Those breaches could allow scammers to know who you are, where you live, and with whom you do business. Every e-mail that asks anything of you has to be looked at with a new level of suspicion.

So, continue to chuckle at ones that are riddled with typos and filled with broken English. But avoid clicking on links even in e-mails that look legitimate. If you get an e-mail that appears to be from your bank or Target or the government and it tells you to follow a link, go to the established web page of that entity or call them at a number not provided by that e-mail.

It might seem overly cautious, but identity thieves will try anything to get what they need from you — usually a Social Security number. Another tactic is to get you to download software that will steal information off your computer or just cause problems.

“Don’t click on links from e-mails, period,” said Paula Fleming, vice president of the Better Business Bureau serving Eastern Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

So, exercise skepticism and unless you’re sure of the source . . . don’t click.

Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers out of jams for the past two decades. He lives in Worcester and also writes the Consumer Alert blog on Boston.com. Mitch can be reached at ConsumerNews@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka.
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