Have you ever been on a website and noticed the site owner or another user has written out their email address in some variation of the following?
Name (at) domain dot com
If you wondered if the person was just averse to using symbols, you may be interested to know it’s actually a decent method for reducing unwanted spam emails and protecting yourself from possible phishing scams and even identity theft.
We talked to digital security expert Adam Levin, co-founder of Credit.com and chairman and founder of CyberScout (formerly IDT911), to learn more about how it works.
Good ‘Cyber Hygiene’
“One way spammers harvest email addresses is by sending out bots that are instructed to look for and scrape letter strings that contain the @ symbol,” Levin said.
For that reason, it’s a good idea to practice what Levin refers to as “good cyber hygiene” when entering your email address on public sites. Writing out your email address lets you do that. (Check out our tips for keeping your email safe and secure.)
Phishers can be dangerous, especially if you wade through a tremendous amount of email each day. They create emails that closely resemble legitimate companies and entities that can be difficult to spot as phony, especially when you’re in a hurry to get through your emails.
Using “at” and “dot” makes it more difficult for spambot programs to detect and grab your email address, Levin said. That can be helpful for small business owners whose information is listed on their website, social media accounts or other digital locations.
“For hackers and fraudsters, email addresses are essential tools used to phish their target,” he said. “Because the ultimate guardian of the consumer is the consumer, this is another way to be proactive about protecting your identity and personal data.”
Over the years, some spammers have made an effort to scrape even strings containing “at” and “dot” in hopes of gaining access to email addresses, though sifting through this data to find actual addresses requires manual review and is time-consuming.
If you’re concerned about spammers getting your email information or phone number through this method, you can create an image of this data that bots can’t read. With this method, the only way for spammers to “harvest” your information is manually, which means you’re pretty safe.
The bottom line when it comes to keeping your information safe is staying vigilant. Check your financial and digital accounts regularly. Check your credit reports for free once a year with each of the major credit bureaus. Ensure the reports are accurate and that you recognize all the accounts. If you suspect there are mistakes, reach out to the bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion).
Finally, to monitor your credit more closely, you can use a free tool like Credit.com’s Credit Report Summary for a breakdown, updated every 14 days, of the information in your credit report, along with free credit scores. If you see your score drop for no reason, something could be up.