I opened my email recently to find a message from someone I know very well, a female colleague in her sixties. The message asked me to urgently send her money as she was on holiday. It revealed someone had stolen her money and her phone and having had her holiday ruined, she wanted to come home straight away but needed money to do so. Fortunately I was able to call this person and as well as checking she was alright, advise her to quickly change her email password and run a full virus check on her computer, as it was clear her email account had been hacked.

As email scams go it was one of the more believable ones. It contained no link to buy cheap pills online, nor did it advise me of a large inheritance that I could obtain a healthy percentage in return for assisting moving the funds. It is often difficult to tell whether emails are genuine, particularly if someone is asking for help. One can get paranoid and begin to suspect every email is a hoax and I have missed important and genuine emails in the past for exactly this reason. A simple rule of thumb is, when the email gives you an excuse about why you cannot call the sender and/or urges immediate action without delay, you should do a bit of checking and you should never send money directly through a link provided in the email.

These problems are usually unsophisticated hacks where the Trojan or virus sends emails to your contact list. The frustrating thing for users is that it appears to be quite easy to mask an email to look like a different email address. I have even had emails from myself asking for help! Almost always the email hack will ask for money or send links to products, unfortunately often of an explicit nature. These hacks are frustrating, intrusive and can cause offence, they are certainly one of the downsides of being online. However, a full scan with your anti-virus software and a password change usually sees things return to normal.

A far better solution would be a way to eliminate this type of mindless behaviour from the Internet, but virus protection and virus creation is a perennial game of cat and mouse that we normal computer users cannot escape from. It is possible, however, to be caught out so be very careful and never send money until you are absolutely sure the need is genuine.

Malcolm Clarke is based in the North East of England and writes on a number of topics including Politics, Social Commentary, Sport and Gaming.