Tech Tips: Determine if links in emails are safe & get informed of USPS deliveries
March 18, 2018
Sometimes I get emails that look legitimate, but they're dealing with topics that might be sensitive, like banking information or online orders. I can never tell if it's safe to click the links in the emails. Is there some way to determine if it's OK to click the links?
We get emails forwarded from friends all the time with the question "Is this for real, or is it a scam?" Most of the time, if you suspect an email is fraudulent, it probably is.
On the other hand, sometimes it's hard to tell. There's no foolproof way to verify that a particular email is safe, and it's very easy for less-than-honest folks to hide links in emails or on websites that will lead you astray.
But the fact is simple: never ever, under any circumstances, click a link in an email or on a website unless you know where it's going to take you. It's a little easier to feel confident on websites where you have already logged in (for example, on a banking website where you have already authenticated) than it is in an email, but still, remember the rule: be sure where you're going before you click.
So, how can you know where a link is going to take you? Most modern browsers make this simple: You can hover your mouse over a link before you click it, and you should see, in the lower-left corner of the browser window, the actual web address that's associated with the link in the email or website. This feature is turned on by default in Chrome.
In Safari, you must show the status bar (select View, then Show Status Bar); once you do that, you'll see the complete web address when you hover over a link. Most email clients provide this same sort of functionality. (If you find that yours does not, first search the web for "<your email client> preview web links" ("Outlook preview web links", for example).)
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If your email client simply doesn't support this feature, we strongly suggest finding a different email client.
Given that you can hover your mouse and see the actual web address associated with a link, it's up to you to determine if the address is valid or not. If the email is ostensibly from a vendor you know (like Microsoft, Google, Facebook, or Apple) and a link you hover over in the email indicates that clicking it will take you to a different domain, you can probably assume that the link isn't valid.
If you get an email indicating that you need to take some action, rather than clicking the link, open a browser window yourself, and browse to the site in question. Log in, and deal with any issues directly, rather than clicking a link in the email. Better safe than sorry.
Get informed of USPS deliveries
My mailbox is down the road from my house, and some days, I just don't feel like going out to check the mail. It would be so cool if there was some way to receive an email that would notify me of what's in my mailbox, so I wouldn't have to trek down there if there wasn't mail to pick up. Am I just dreaming?
We feel your pain on this one: We both have a seemingly endless walk (about 300 feet) to get to our mailboxes. And that's just too much of an effort to make without payoff at the end. (Note some irony here, but really, who wants a walk to the mailbox with nothing but disappointment at the other end?)
Luckily, the U.S. Postal Service, in its efforts to modernize its service (and to compete with other delivery services) offers a really nice service named Informed Delivery. Once you set up this service, you'll receive an email each day with photos of each mail piece you can expect to be delivered that day. No kidding.
The USPS doesn't open the mail, just photographs each piece as they process it, sending you information about the mail you can expect.
In addition, the service provides a listing of packages you can expect to receive from the U.S. Postal Service, although you won't get photos of those, just information about each one. The list of packages provides tracking and delivery information. (Because Amazon.com uses USPS for many of its deliveries, this is a truly useful service.)
Informed Delivery isn't available in every location, but Ken's been using it since its inception and loves it. Now he always knows if it's worth a stop at the mailbox, and whether his trek up and down the hill will be worth the effort. Give it a try.
Doug Behl and Ken Getz spent years answering technical questions in private, and are minimizing the questions by pre-emptively publishing the answers. Hear Doug and Ken's tech tips on KNCO radio weekdays at around 8:21 a.m. and 5:38 p.m.; find full write-ups including links to the products they mention at http://blog.techtipguys.com. Submit your own technical questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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