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Viral E-mail: Fun Or Trouble?

By Will from Holland

How often does a friend forward you an e-mail with a funny picture or movie clip that your friend got from a friend, who got it from a friend, and so on? And of course your friend wants you to forward it to all your friends.

Those funny e-mails are called viral e-mails.
They are a form of chain e-mail, and they can be great fun or lots of trouble.

A viral e-mail typically is an e-mail that is created and normally sent to everybody in the creator's e-mail address book. The receivers look at the e-mail, think it's funny or cool, and therefore send it on to a bunch of people in their address books. These people do the same: read, and send on. Ten forwards down the chain and the initial creator can easily reach 100.000 people, according to news reports.

Sweet! Now that's what you call a quick spreading virus!
Everybody is sending them, too: big companies as well as individuals. It's a free, quick and easy way to market or just spread something fun. There are even websites devoted just to collecting viral e-mails and making them accessible to others.

So is there anything wrong here? Viral e-mails themselves don't have to be trouble. But unfortunately, scammers are quickly learning to use them to hurt you—and everybody in your address book. For instance, computer viruses that destroy your hard drive can easily travel in these forwarded e-mails. Before they destroy it, the viruses of course send the same virus to everybody in your e-mail address book.

Viral e-mail can also download tracking programs to gather your personal and financial data.

How to protect yourself:

  1. Slow down! Think before you open e-mails and attachments. Don't open any e-mails with attachments from people you don't know.
  2. Don't open e-mails supposedly sent from your own e-mail address. "Spoofers" can make an e-mail look like it comes from your own address. Your inclination is to open it. Don't!
  3. Make sure your virus protection software is up to date, and set to scan any attachments.