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Tech Q&A: Making it harder for spammers to learn more about you

Steve Alexander, Star Tribune on

Published in Business News

Spam keeps changing and several readers wonder what to do about it. Sharon Gresham of Sarasota, Florida, says she's begun receive e-mails in a foreign language, and trying to block them hasn't worked. Ann Donovan of Colorado Springs, Colorado, says she's getting a steady stream of what appear to be scam e-mails from someone named Elene, who she thinks in not a real person. Labeling the e-mails as spam stopped them for only a short time.

A: Foreign language e-mails or repeated e-mails from a stranger probably are spam. So, what should you do?

—Never click anything in a spam e-mail (you could get malware or be taken to a bogus website.)

—Give up trying to block spam because it's fruitless. Once you block an e-mail address the spammers start using a different one. Instead, send spam to your e-mail's spam folder, which should (eventually) help the service's spam filter to block at least some of the junk mail. As the spammers change their e-mails, you may need to label them as spam again.

—Avoid opening what appears to be spam. Spammers embed graphics in an e-mail to make it look authentic. These graphics reside on a server run by the spammer, so every time you open a piece of spam, a graphic image is automatically downloaded to your computer and the spammer learns things about you, such as: your IP (Internet Protocol) address, which in turn can reveal your approximate location (down to the city you live in), the name of your internet service provider and the type of internet connection you're using (cable, phone or cellular.) The spammer also may be able to identify your device, operating system, browser, time zone, screen size and preferred language. A spammer may use this information to send spam that might appeal to you.

—If you need to open an e-mail to make sure that it is spam, try to limit what a spammer can learn about you. Turn off your e-mail's "automatic image downloading." (To do this in several e-mail systems, see tinyurl.com/4w7nk73y and scroll to the bottom of the article.)

 

Q: I want to use the online version of Microsoft Office (part of the Microsoft 365 subscription service) on both my new and old PCs. But I prefer the format of the Outlook 365 program (version 2108) that's on my old PC. I'd like to transfer it to my new PC rather than use the latest Outlook 365 program (version 2109), which has a new layout that I dislike. Can I do this?

—Bob Somers, Eden Prairie, Minnesota

A: You can't avoid the Outlook change on your new PC, but you can on your old one. Microsoft changed the visual appearance of the Office apps that are part of Microsoft 365 (see tinyurl.com/7medev94) to make them look more like Windows 11, which is a free upgrade to Windows 10. Here's how that will affect you:

New PC: It can't avoid the change because you can't transfer the old version of Outlook (version 2108) from your old PC to your new one. Instead, you must deactivate Office on your old PC, then activate it on your new PC. That means you'll have to download the new Office apps (version 2109) to the new PC (see tinyurl.com/4rs6pcvc).

Old PC: You can keep the Outlook version you like if you disable the automatic updates from Microsoft 365. That's accomplished differently depending on whether you downloaded Office to the old PC or it came preinstalled (see tinyurl.com/t8bye6dp).

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