To determine if checking out a link, video, picture or document is safe requires understanding a bit more about the email, or IM, or text message you received it in. Determining whether or not the attachments are safe or not can seem like a lot or work, but once you’ve done it a couple of times it will be second nature for you.
Who sent the message?
If it was a family member or friend, and you were expecting them to send the attachment or link, it is probably safe to do so, although they could unknowingly be sending you an infected file or a malicious link.
If you were not expecting something from a family member or friend, it may legitimately be from them, or it could be that their account was hijacked and the message is actually being sent by a cybercriminal hoping to infect your computer and/or steal your information. The easy way to discover whether it is actually from your friend or family member is to call, text, or email the sender and ask.
If the message and attachments or link come from a company, there is a different set of questions to ask.
Do you use this company?
If not it’s junk or worse, a scam.
If you do use the company, were you expecting to receive an email or another message from them? For example, if you just ordered new work pants and you immediately get an email from the company you purchased the pants from saying here is a copy of your order, it is most likely safe.
If the message comes from a company you do business with but you did not just contact the company, it is time to ask another question.
Why was the message sent?
Any message from a company asking you for sensitive information, telling you to download and fill out a form, telling you to click on their link, or asking you to check out their video or photo is highly suspicious. Always check these messages out before taking any of these actions, and never use the information they provide when checking them out.
If the message wants you to link to their site to fill in information, don’t. Instead, using a search engine find the company’s site, log into your account and see if the same questions or requested actions are mentioned there If they aren’t, you know the message was a scam. If the same instructions appear on your account, use the legitimate site to respond - never the link you got in an email.
If you want to call to check out the message, but you don’t know the phone number to your bank, store, or other company, look up the number yourself in a phone book or online phone directory. Never use the phone number shown in the message as it may also be fake.
While it can be tempting to just hurry through your email, IM and text messages, haste makes mistakes. It is better to slow down, and take the time to consider the message, check to see if it is legitimate and act on your own rather than on something you are being steered towards.