I just got a great email question from my friend David Reinhardsen of Hudson Photo Works. In it, he was trying to figure out if a chain letter email he got was legitimate. The text that was passed along read like this:
...You may receive an apparently harmless e-mail titled "Here you have it" If you open the file, a message will appear on your screen saying: 'It is too late now, your life is no longer beautiful....Subsequently, you will LOSE EVERYTHING IN YOUR PC, And the person who sent it to you will gain access to your Name, e-mail and password...
I responded that a good way to check if an email chain is valid would be to verify using snopes.com. They are a good independent source to determine if you're getting your leg pulled, or worse yet - something else. :-)
In this particular case, the chain email was indeed a hoax, as verified here: http://www.snopes.com/computer/virus/lifeisbeautiful.asp
However it's always good to be safe rather than sorry. Generally it is a good idea to be careful of attachments and web links from strange places. When you get an email from someone, if there is an attachment or a link in the email, pay close attention to the following (color coded for your viewing pleasure):
1. Is the item addressed just to you, or to many, many people?
2. Is the link or attachment's contents clearly explained?
3. Were you expecting something from that person?
4. Do you know the person who emailed you?
5. Is the link or attachment's contents clearly explained?
6. Is the text of the email very vague, like "Check this out"
7. Is the text misspelled like it was done by a 1st grader?
8. Is the file attached an executable file (does it have a .exe. extension)
9. If you put your mouse over the link, does the address it shows look like a really, really weird link, like xdflihsefon.ne.efg.gu? (That's just an example)
The darker the color on the numbered items above, the more likely the danger. Items 8 and 9 are very dangerous!
If one or more of these things occur, stop before you open up the link or attachment. in that case, the best practice is to contact that individual (call or a new email - not reply back) and find out what is going on with that attachment.
As always, try to use your gut instinct.