How to be safe on the Internet

Anthony Creech
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Her: "You should do an article on how to avoid being scammed online, 'common'  rules everyone should know"

Me (actual response to her): "Yeah I should"  (Typical techie snarky response, that wouldn't be in a sweet-hearted mind like mine ... cough ...)

"You should learn to Google things before you ask for help. There is likely tons of articles and lists online for stuff like that."

Well, there's an important one to start with.

When someone recently asked Google's Chairman, Eric Schmidt, how to be safe from viruses and online threats, he said the safest you can be online is to own a Mac computer and use Google Chrome as your browser. He's right, but there's much more to it.

 If I had to teach the world one tech-skill, it'd be a first-principle :

1. Searching things

The wisdom behind it:  If there's a scam, spam or virus going around, you're likely not the first person to receive it, or its cousins. One of the awesome rules of the Internet is generosity. People are generous and post about spam and scams, to save others the trouble. You can search the text of a message you get, and see if anyone has gotten the same or similar messages, and what scheme it's attached to.

How-to: Select the text of anything suspicious at all ( you should be suspicious of any mass-emails, or anything that seems to tug at heart strings and asks for help, or asks to be shared with others.)

Copy the text. Paste it into a search engine like Bing, Yahoo or Google. Click search.

You'll often see a number of similar results letting you know it's a scam. look for numerous citing of it being legitimate, don't just take one site's word for it if you have a long list in the search results saying otherwise.

There are a number of respected urban-legend and scam reporting site, like you can search, visit and rely on to help find the truth.

Watch for: emails pretending to be pious, asking for you to "encourage others" by sending it to as many people as possible. They are sending around a net, so to speak, to scoop up as many email addresses as they can. They send it out and then try to pick it back up again after loads and loads of people have restarted it and racked up a bunch of emails in the "where this email has been" data that comes along with it.

Also watch out for anything claiming to be giving you inside knowledge of some epic controversy. The news isn't hiding the story. The story is fake. There is one of these types that I get every year, claiming that CBS or NBC or some other major network is producing some TV show claiming that Jesus was homosexual or some other offensive-to-conservatives thing. "Sign this petition and send this to as many people as possible so we can stop this!" it says.

This type of scam almost always ends, if it uses any religious hot-button content, with a quote from the New Testament saying "if you deny me before men I will deny you" or a similar out-of-context reference. It makes it sound like God won't let you into heaven if you don't send all your friends some email. It's a sure-fire way to get some emails.

This leads to the second bit of advice I'll pass along for now. It's called Blind Carbon Copy.

How do you share an email "properly" to more than one person? How do you thwart those who would try to collect email addresses to spam you with?

The answer is:

2. BCC

You know what CC stands for? It sits in your email, and represents a carbon copy from the good old days. people would make a form and make a carbon copy to instantly make a double or triple to share with others who needed the info.

CC in email helps distinguish to whom the email is "for" apart from those who might need to be "in on the loop." You might send a co-worker an email about a project you're working on and CC your boss so that they know what is going on, and stay up to date with your work. You may also want your co-worker to be aware that the boss knows this info as well.

You could add their name to the "to:" field, but they'd think the email is intended for them, directly. CC allows you to send something by an indirect means, and give the sense that  "I want you to be aware of this" instead of the direct "I want a response" that including them in the "to:" field does.

Learning to keep your boss in the CC loop may save you your job. I know people who lost their jobs because they didn't do it.

BCC is similar and it makes it so that all copying is well, blind. If you want to send something to someone and you want someone else to see it, but you don't want the person in the "To:" field to know it, add the person in the BCC field and it's hidden.

By far the best use for the BCC field is to send a mass email that everyone will receive as if they are the only person getting it. No spreading emails around for spammers, no body knows who else is on the list. It stops the rewards of fake emails in their tracks.

BCC also can be used  used to prevent the classic accidental "Reply All" a person responding to a mass email occasionally commits, sending a reply intended for only the message originator to the entire recipient list, including you. Can't happen with BCC

If you want to send a mass email to all your contacts, please use the BCC field to add all the addresses, and thereby respect the privacy of those whose emails you have. No one wants their email address spread around to a bunch of people they don't know.

Also, when forwarding emails, after you hit the forward button, the text of the email often includes the email addresses of previous people the email was sent to. Be a kind person and delete that list so that their emails stop floating around. Thanks.

There is still many things to learn, many bits of wisdom to share. That will come.

Using search and BCC can help protect you and others from malware, spam and viruses.

For now, open up and email and trying BCC to forward yourself an email someone sent you. It's an easy test and learning moment. See what the email looks like when you receive it.

Next go to and poke your head around for odd things you've heard about religion or political figure.

Also, try Googling a supposed mega-virus or anything crazy you've heard about lately.

Lastly, if you a reading this in the paper, make sure to visit the Moose Jaw Times-Herald website and bookmark this article online. Send it to anyone who forwards you something with a long list of emails attached.

It may help. Or, they'll be horribly offended and never talk to you again. Worth the risk, if you don't receive bogus mass emails anymore.

Anthony Thomas Creech, MFA, is a filmmaker and lecturer on media, faith and filmmaking. He's the program co-ordinator for the media arts minor at Briercrest College & Seminary. You can find him at

Organizations: Briercrest College Seminary, Google, Yahoo CBS Moose Jaw Times-Herald

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