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Previewing Emails Before Opening

ED from Brossard writes: I receive emails from friends and I recognize the name, but then I open the message but sometimes it is some scam email. Is there a way to scan the emails before opening them to make sure they are actually from my friends?

These sneaky messages try to get around your email client’s spam filter by utilizing names from people you personally know – specifically from people already listed in your address book. However when you open the message, the name and email address won’t match up. These are typically “phishing” emails that try to get you to click a link and then enter personal information into a website.

The subject line in these scam emails is usually a dead giveaway, but sometimes they are generic enough that you may think they are actually from a friend or family member. To quickly scan these messages to see their contents, your email client includes a feature for previewing the message without actually double-clicking the subject line. Unfortunately most of the free online email programs, such as Outlook.com, do not currently support this feature.

If you have a client such as Thunderbird or Microsoft Outlook however, turning on the preview option is incredibly simple. For Thunderbird, click the “View” menu at the top of the screen and select “Layout.”

Thunderbird's View Tab

Click the “Message Pane” option to turn on the preview feature. Alternatively, you can instead simply use a keyboard shortcut by tapping “F8” to turn the preview feature on or off.

Thunderbird Message Pane

If you instead use Microsoft Outlook, open the “View” tab and navigate to the “Reading Panel” menu. Select either “Right” or “Bottom” to place the preview panel below or on the side of your list of messages.

Outlook Reading Panel

The online Gmail client doesn’t automatically include a built-in option for previewing, but there is an experimental feature that can be turned on to preview messages. Click the cog icon at the top right-corner of the screen and select “Settings.”

Gmail Settings

Navigate to the tab named “Labs” at the top of the screen.

Labs Menu

In the search box, type the phrase “Preview” to bring up a list of add-on tools to use with Gmail.

Searching Labs

Scroll down to the “Preview Pane” add-on and click the “Enable” radio button. Click the “Save Changes” button to turn on the preview pane option.

Enabling Gmail Preview

You may want to avoid previewing these messages at all, however, as even previewing the email can let the person or program sending the message know that your address is valid – resulting in more scram emails in the future. To tell what specific email address sent the message, right-click the subject line and choose “View Message Source.” Check the “From” line at the top of the report to see if the email address matches the name of your friend of family member.

Viewing Message Source

You may also want to run a spyware scan and change your email password in addition to previewing messages, as scam emails using your friend’s names typically indicate your computer has an infection of some kind.

~ Ty Arthur