Criminals target out-of-office e-mail

The out-of-office e-mail many workers use when on vacation could be making their homes a prime target for thieves.

The United Kingdom’s Corporate IT Forum issued a warning after evidence emerged that criminals are able to discover the personal details, and in some cases the home addresses, of staff through cross-referencing the information contained in out-of-office e-mail messages.

Criminals buy lists of e-mail addresses, readily available over the Internet, and send mass mailings with the intention of gaining out-of-office replies. Using online directories, such as Canada411, would-be burglars can cross-reference information contained within the automatic e-mail replies, such as name, telephone number and business address, to find out the personal details and even the home address of the sender.

People with unusual names and those living in smaller towns are at a higher risk than others since the names can be tracked down more easily.

Some suggestions to thwart thieves include:

•Keep messages as bland as possible. Say that you are currently “unable to deal with this query” or that you are “out of the office on business.”

•Redirect inquires to a colleague’s business telephone number so someone else can assess the enquiry and verbally inform the caller of a period of absence.

•If you have an important sounding job title, think very carefully about whether you want to reveal your job title to a wide audience. The homes of CEOs on vacation make good burglary targets.

•Be very careful with giving away alternative contact details, only include them if the person concerned has agreed.

•Always prepare for your absence and pre-warn key contacts personally of your holiday.

•Never state you are away on holiday, out of the country, or away between certain dates.

•Never put alternative personal contact details on an out of office message.

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