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Mom, stop sending me spam!
November 16, 2011 1:32 PM   Subscribe

How do I explain to my mom that her Yahoo email seems to be compromised, and what should I tell her to do about it?

My mom has had a Yahoo email account for some time, and recently I've started seeing spam from her account--"This product changed my life" type stuff (that I can tell wasn't written by her).

She's not particularly computer-literate, and I don't want to scare her away from using her computer or convince her that her computer is on the whole dangerous/fragile. Should I just tell her to get a new GMail account with a strong password and move on, or are there some newbie-friendly computer security basics I should tell her about that will cut down on the likelihood of this happening again? (I'm not even sure how one's yahoo email would be hacked/taken over these days--clicking on weird emails? Phishing? Simple brute-force guessing of passwords? Password re-use on other sites with poor security?) What are some tactful ways to phrase/talk about her email being compromised that don't set off "OMG virus haxxors" alarms?
posted by rivenwanderer to Computers & Internet (5 answers total)
 
How sure are you that the email actually came from her account, versus being spam that spoofed the headers so as to appear to have been sent from your mom? In my experience, the latter is about 1,000% more common than the former.

Not to say that Yahoo accounts don't get compromised and used for spam. They sure do. But if I were in your position, I wouldn't want to wade into that quagmire if I didn't have to.

A broad approach might be best. "Hey mom, I bet your password isn't the greatest. Password security is a pretty big deal these days, I'm sure you've heard about it on the news a lot lately. Let me help you choose a better one, and while I'm here I'll help you change it on Yahoo."
posted by ErikaB at 1:43 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's possible that her account hasn't been compromised. I see a lot of emails with spoofed Yahoo addresses which just have bogus headers, but don't appear to be from the actual account that they claim.

If she's just a Web-email-pictures-of-grandkids computer user, and doesn't depend on any Windows-only software, I'd suggest switching her to a user-friendly Linux distribution. The UI metaphors on the major Linux desktop environments are comparable to Windows and OS X these days, and basic use shouldn't be a problem. Linux certainly isn't bulletproof, but most malware and exploits involve Windows systems and software, and a large dose of security-through-relative-obscurity doesn't hurt.

She should stop using Yahoo mail on principle anyway, because it sucks, so gmail might be a good alternative. If she'd be amenable to using a mail client like Thunderbird, that would further decrease the likelihood that she would be tricked into handing over her credentials to, e.g. qmail.qooqle.com instead of gmail.

Seconding ErikaB's suggestion that your assistance be presented as a low-key help session with a "Gee, I saw on the news today that..." vibe instead of OMG MOM HACKERS ARE RUNNING UP CHARGES ON YOUR CREDIT CARD IN A MEXICAN BORDELLO! Not that you'd do that, of course.
posted by jingzuo at 1:56 PM on November 16, 2011


I get tons of spam in my Yahoo inbox and almost none in my Gmail inbox. This alone is a good reason to switch her. She's much less likely to click on random crap if she never sees it.
posted by desjardins at 2:24 PM on November 16, 2011


Point your mom toward the Login Activity Yahoo page linked under "View your recent login activity." When my friend's Yahoo account was hacked by spammers, its recent activity showed logins from Bulgaria, Nigeria, Argentina--all over the place, and clearly not my friend logging in. Showing my friend that convinced her I was right that she needed to change her password (which was embarrassingly simple), so it may convince your mom too.

And work on moving her to Gmail--Gmail can access Yahoo via POP3 or Yahoo can forward mail, so she needn't scorch the Yahoo earth entirely.
posted by nicebookrack at 3:00 PM on November 16, 2011


My SiL got joe-jobbed like this last week. *shrug* If the account is secure, it's just spoofing and there's really no way to stop that.

Also, though: stil using Yahoo mail? I admit that my mom retains her AOL address, so who am I to ctriticize...
posted by wenestvedt at 9:14 AM on November 17, 2011


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