Email safety

Connecting with others > Getting online > Email safety

Whilst e-mail is a great way to contact loved ones around the world instantly, there is a need to be cautious. Phrases like ‘phishing’, ‘cyber scams’ and ‘online fraud’ are bounded around the news and can make us worry about using e-mail. This blog explains some of the main scams to be wary of when using your e-mails and practical steps you can take to avoid them. As long as you’re taking the following precautions, you’ll be free to enjoy using e-mail without worry.

Terms you might have heard

Phishing – this is where someone pretends to be a trustworthy organisation (e.g. your bank) and asks for sensitive information from you, such as credit card details or your address.

Virus mail – an e-mail that contains a programme inside which can “infect” your computer if opened. There are lots of different kinds of viruses. Some are built to steal your personal information, others to monitor what you do online.

How to spot a scam e-mail

  • The sender’s e-mail may be different from the one on the trusted website. For example, have you got an e-mail saying it is from Barclays Bank, but it is sent from “”.
  • The e-mail may use a non-specific e-mail greeting, such as ‘Dear Customer’.
  • It may contain poor grammar or misspelt words.
  • The e-mail contains nothing but a link to another website.  Even if it is sent from an e-mail address that looks like a friend or acquaintance it won’t have been sent by them so be extra careful.
  • There is an attachment to the e-mail with no explanation.
  • The message asks for personal information, such as passwords or bank details.
  • You’re asked to send money.
  • You didn’t initiate the action – for example, you have been informed that you won the lottery, but you didn’t buy a ticket.

You should never give away your bank details or security codes of credit cards via e-mail. Your bank will never ask for these and whilst it may look genuine it will be a scam. You may get e-mails from your bank, but they may be to inform you, for example, that a statement is ready online, or to advertise a new savings scheme.

As long as you don’t respond to the e-mail and delete it as soon as you see it, you should be safe. If you wish to report these scams you can forward the email to This will not be dealt with individually but may help the police piece together a case.

What if I open a scam e-mail?

There are many different kinds of anti-virus software that you can download for your computer that should protect your files if you accidentally open a scam e-mail that contains a virus. However, many are expensive and you have to renew them every few years. AVG antivirus is a free download that you can get for your PC or Mac that will provide adequate protection and ease your worries.

Staying safe on someone else’s computer

If you are using a computer in an internet café, a library or another public place, it is essential to sign out of your e-mails once you have finished. When signing in, you may be asked ‘do you want to save the password for the next time you sign in’. Make sure you answer ‘no’ so that no one can sign into your account once you leave. Leaving your e-mail account signed in is a bit like leaving your front door open, and saving the password to that computer is a bit like giving someone a key!

Where can I learn more?

If you want any more guidance on e-mail safety, you can watch a video by GCF Learn Free on their Avoiding Spam and Phishing Page.