Guys, remember clicking on links in emails is not safe!
The computer corner
By Charles Miller
In last week’s column my advice to readers was to never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, ever click on links in emails. For some reason this advice seems to be hard for some people to embrace, but those who follow this advice are the ones who avoid most problems associated with online scams and malware. Clicking on links to web sites (URLs) is seductively convenient and dangerous.
One client of mine complains that she has to click on the links, otherwise she would miss reading the newspaper articles her daughter sends her, and of course she does not want to miss out seeing the YouTube video of the dancing sheepdog. I explained that firstly she could not be sure the email she received from her daughter really did come from her daughter, and secondly that there is simply no way to tell a valid URL from a malicious one. The only safe thing to do is never click on links.
Let me explain what happens if you send to me an email containing a link. The first thing I do is dissect the URL:
I look at that URL and see that it would have taken me to a web site named “by” in the Republic of Belarus (.by). I delete that email. So you try again and send me this link:
This URL really does point to the New York Times, but I still never click on links. What I do instead is open my browser then I manually type in nytimes.com; then when that page opens I look to see if there is anything on the front page about Donald Trump or penthouses or rental rates. Sometimes if that article is no longer on the front page I need to search for it on the site.
If you send me a link to a YouTube video, the URL might look like this:
This appears to be legitimate, but still I never click on links. What I do instead is open my browser then I manually type in the address youtube.com in order to make sure I am opening the real YouTube site and not some fake look-alike site. Then I search for “WtyPawf-YV0” in order to open the video identified by that number.
If you send me an email with a link and if I cannot easily figure it out using the methods described above, and if I think it is important enough, then you might receive a phone call from me saying: Hi, this is Charles. Can you confirm you sent me an email at 3:18am this morning? What does the link in the email link to?”
So what are we to do if we cannot safely send links in emails? Something very easy to do is copy and paste the headline of a web page; copy from the page and paste into the email you send. In the example above you could say “Look on youtube.com for the video titled Computadoras Pro Jóvenes in San Miguel de Allende.” That is the safe way to direct someone to a web page. If you send them the link to “https://www.youtubc.com/watch?v=WtyPawf-YV0” it would be easier for the recipient to click on the link, but look where it would take them. Please tell me that everyone noticed the address youtubc.com above is not really YouTube.com.
The bottom line here is that clicking on links in emails is not safe, there is absolutely no way to make it safe, and if you want to be safe you should never, ever click on links in emails!
Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101-8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.