Would you believe that email has been around since the 1970s? Email, or electronic mail, is a popular online tool used by all ages, including seniors. In fact, 84.1% of people 65+ use email in the United States. It’s a powerful tool for communication, managing business and finances, and shopping online. In this guide, we’ll go over some email basics as well as some important safety measures. While many seniors are tech savvy and regularly use email, there are some best practices to keep in mind.

Common email terms

An email is a digital letter that gets transferred from one computer server to another over an internet connection. You can read that email using a tool known as an email client, such as Gmail, Microsoft, Outlook, or Yahoo.

When an email comes into your inbox, it will usually include a sender name (who it’s from) and a subject line (what it’s about). By clicking on the subject line, you can open the email and read the contents. Here’s some email terminology to be aware of:

Email address: Your email address works like your virtual identity, allowing people to send you messages. For most websites that require logging in, you also need an email address to identify your account.

Attachment: An attachment is a file sent along with an email, like a document or photo. The recipient can download the attachment to see what it is or save it (more on that in a second).

FWD:If you see this at the beginning of the subject line, it means it was forwarded to you. In other words, the sender received the email from someone else, then sent it along to you.

RE: You’ll see this at the beginning of the subject line to indicate a response to an email you or someone else sent.

CC: Sending a “carbon copy” means that more than one recipient will get your email message. You can add multiple email addresses to the CC line, and it’s a great way to keep everyone in the loop on plans or share something with many friends or family members at once.

BCC: Blind-carbon-copying means you are including an additional recipient (or more), but the other recipients cannot see all the other email addresses.

Spam: These are email messages that you never asked or agreed to receive — often trying to sell something. Most email clients automatically filter out spam into a folder so it doesn’t go to your main inbox. If you need to mark an email as spam, look for the spam button at the top of the email client.

Folders: A folder system allows you to organize your emails. You might have folders like Family, Finances, and Online Shopping, so you can place emails into these categories and find them easily when you need to.

Email etiquette

Writing a great email comes down to practicing some basic etiquette. Here are a few tips to get started:

Write a clear subject line. Make sure your recipient can understand what your email is about by writing a subject line that clearly communicates, like “Visiting 12/26” or “Family photos from 1996.”

Don’t use all caps. Sometimes, the Caps Lock can get switched on accidentally, and it might not seem like a big deal to keep typing in all capital letters. But, on the Internet, typing in all capital letters looks like yelling. So do your recipient a favor and make sure to switch off Caps Lock.

Be careful what you send. Any email can be forwarded to another person, so it’s a good idea to keep private information out of email unless you absolutely trust the recipient.

Don’t “Reply All.”Hitting Reply All sends the email to everyone who was CCed on the email, and unless everyone really needs to know about your response, you should only reply to the one person you’re trying to respond to.

Email safety for seniors

It may not seem like there’s much of a threat in your inbox, especially if it’s filled with articles sent from friends, family pictures, and receipts from any online purchases. However, it’s pretty easy for people to get ahold of email addresses from various sources, especially if a data leak has occurred. If someone gets your email address, they could send you an email with dangerous content.

Here are the do’s and don’ts to practice for email safety:

Don’t open an email from someone you don’t know. Simply mark it as spam or delete it. You may even want to block the sender if they repeatedly send you messages.

Don’t open an attachment on an email if the email is from someone you don’t know or don’t trust. Scammers and hackers often load these attachments with malware, a type of software that can compromise your computer or the data you have on it.

Don’t ever send personal information, like your social security number or financial information, over email. If someone is asking for these things, be suspicious. If you know the purpose is valid, find another way to get them the info, such as over the phone.

Do learn how to recognize phishing. Let’s say you get an email from your bank, and it looks pretty close to every other email you’ve received from your bank. But they are asking you to send along personal information immediately or want you to click on a link to go somewhere else online.

This could be a phishing attempt, a type of scam where criminals use convincing fake emails to trick you. A good rule of thumb is to get more information before taking any immediate action. Pick up the phone and call the institution or person who has contacted you – but use a phone number from the company website or a phone directory. Don’t use the phone number included in the email, because it could be part of the scam.

Do keep your antivirus software up to date. For antivirus software to be effective, it has to be kept current. Here at CenturyLink, we provide online security from McAfee. All qualifying CenturyLink residential High-Speed Internet subscribers can download McAfee to their compatible PC, Mac, iOS, and Android devices. McAfee offers continuous updating and monitoring, so you don’t need to remember to do updates on your own.

Want to learn more about using the internet? Visit our guide to the internet for seniors for a variety of topics on using the internet, electronic devices, and more.