Email has revolutionized communications. It is fast, convenient, easy and accessible. However, e-mail comes with its own special set of problems, including privacy and security issues.

  • Spam-unwanted e-mail that floods your mailbox including everything from unwanted advertisements for medication and property in Costa Rica to annoying chain letter e-mails to obscene and pornographic messages.

Sidebar: Chain letter e-mails requesting money with promises of big returns are illegal. If you receive one of these e-mails, delete it and do not forward or send it to any other person. Contact your ISP and report the e-mail. Also, forward the e-mail to the FTC at spam@uce.gov.

  • Privacy-because of the flood of e-mail spam, it is important to keep your e-mail address private. Unscrupulous companies and hackers "harvest" e-mail addresses to "phish" for financial information. Some ways to make your e-mail address more private include:
    • Create separate e-mail accounts for separate tasks-i.e., an address for online shopping, one for chat room registrations, another for family and friends.
    • "Mask" your e-mail address-this involves tricking a harvesting program by putting a word or phrase in your address. For example, janedoe@worldwideWeb.com can be masked as janedoe@spamaway.worldwideWeb.com.
    • Use a complicated address with letters and numbers

TIP: Masking may not be permitted on some newsgroup services or message boards; they will not allow you to mask your e-mail address.

Is sending an unsolicited e-mail a crime?

Yes. If the transmission is obscene or contains child pornography and is sent with the intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person, federal statutes pertaining to wire communications have been violated. You can receive a fine and up to 2 years in prison if convicted.

Is it a crime to transmit e-mail to minors?

Yes. Federal law prohibits communications with minors for a commercial purpose where the transmission contains material harmful to the minor. Violators can be fined and imprisoned for up to 6 months.


Your computer is only as safe as you make it. Every time you venture out onto the Internet, including accessing e-mail, your computer is vulnerable to any number of scams, viruses and hackers. However, with some due diligence, you can protect your computer and all the invaluable information you have stored on it.

Your computer can become your enemy if you let your guard down. It is important to carefully examine all e-mails you receive, especially those with attachments. Additionally, pop-ups and instant messages disguised as friendly communications often induce you to reveal personal and financial information that can lead to identity theft.

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