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Crystal, from Germany, asks: "A stranger sends an email with an attachment for a photo/file what do you do?"

Hi Crystal! Here's a short answer: Don't open any attachments from people you don't know. Now for the slightly longer answer...

There are certain types of files which are relatively safe to open, but even ones that you think would be safe might surprise you. Here's a Q&A that talks about one of those: File Attachments and Viruses. Even if you felt confident that a file type was safe to open, you need to be aware that people can be very sneaky. A file which is named "myimage.jpg?x=5.exe" might fool you into thinking it's a JPEG image file, but actually, because it has ".exe" on the end, it's an executable (program) file. You don't want to be opening that!

So if a complete stranger sends you some sort of attachment on an e-mail, you do one thing, and one thing only: you delete that email without opening the attachment. 


Unless you work for a business where you might expect to receive e-mails from strangers. For example, suppose you work for a corporation in their personnel department. It's not unreasonable to suppose that you will get e-mails with resumes attached, from people who want to work for your company. I know this happens, because even though I've never advertised that I want to hire someone to work for me, I often get those kinds of e-mails.

So maybe they're legit. But maybe they're not. What to do?

Well, there are a few possibilities.

  1. Make sure you have the latest greatest virus software installed, cross your fingers, pray, and open that word processor document (Microsoft Word has a feature which causes documents from the internet to be opened in an uneditable "safe" mode, which makes it less likely that the file will give you problems, but I won't suggest that it decreases the probability to zero).
  2. Contact the person and tell them that you don't accept electronic resumes, and...
    1. Ask them to mail you a printed copy.
    2. Give them a fax number, and ask them to fax the document to you.
  3. Contact the person and ask them to put it into Google Docs, and share it with you.

Obviously, all but the first of these options result in hassle for everyone involved, so most people wil choose option 1. And under certain business circumstances it's impossible to avoid opening attachments from strangers. So if you're in a business situation where you have to open docs from strangers, make sure your virus software is up-to-date!

By the way, you can call me paranoid, but I'm even cautious about opening attachments from friends. After all, what if their computer is infected with a virus? Then their attached file could be infected as well, and they wouldn't even know it! It's like having chicken pox - you are contagious even before you know that you've been infected.

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