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Greetings to U. !
I am sure you are all looking forward to your summer break! In this edition of U. Asks Yahoo!, I hope to provide you with helpful tips and advice on how you can take advantage of Internet services while you are away from friends and family this summer. Also, many of you have expressed concern with a relatively recent kind of online fraud called 'phishing'. I'll discuss how to identify a phishing attempt and what you can do to protect yourself. Lastly, I know the majority of you live and breathe with your mobile phone. I have provided some advice on how you can spice up your mobile text messaging. Thanks for your helpful feedback and interesting questions. We look forward to hearing from more of you. Please e-mail me any Internet-related questions at uaskyahoo@yahoo.com and I'll do my best to answer them in upcoming columns. --Geoff Ralston, Chief Product Officer, Yahoo!

Q: I'll be traveling a lot this summer break. What are some ways I can stay in touch with friends and family when I don't have a lot of money to spend? It used to be expensive and oftentimes difficult to contact friends and family when traveling, but now you have many options. With access to Internet cafes around the world, you are really able to take advantage of the Internet to stay in touch with people while traveling and steer clear of those costly phone calls. One of the best ways to communicate in real-time for free is through instant messaging (IM). Not only can you text chat, you can also have a voice conversation, play games, see your friends through webcams, and much more. Be sure to hook-up your family and friends with IM accounts before leaving on summer break so that you can connect easily and inexpensively. And some of you may be returning home or traveling to places that are in a different time zone as your friends and family. If that's the case, a free web-based e-mail account can help you easily stay in touch with everyone - regardless of the time difference. Another fun way to let people know how your travels are going is to share your digital photos through an online photo sharing service. You can easily upload your digital photos from any Internet-enabled computer and send them off to your friends and family for their viewing pleasure! No computer access? A PC is not the only way to access Internet services -- your mobile phone is a great option, too. The majority of mobile phones are web-enabled, which means you can connect to a wide variety of data services when you need to, from wherever you are. For example, you can go to Yahoo!'s Mobile Internet service (often found on the "portals" section of your phone's data services) to find local restaurants and shops, access your e-mail, check sports scores, get the latest news and much more.

Q: I'm checking my bank account and credit card balances online quite a bit, and I hear more and more about 'phishing' and identity theft. Do I need to be concerned, and what can I do to protect myself from being scammed? Phishing is a malicious type of online fraud that often exploits the trust people have in financial institutions. Usually, a phishing scheme involves sending out millions of unsolicited e-mails that appear to come from a financial institution. Now, these scam artists are very good at what they do and you need to be extremely careful about responding to any such e-mail. Phishing e-mails frequently replicate the logos and even the message you'd expect to see from your bank or another online vendor to fool you into submitting financial or other personally identifying information. But this doesn't mean you should forgo the conveniences of online banking. There are a couple of things you can do to protect yourself from a phishing scam. As a general rule, do not reply to e-mail or pop-up messages asking for financial information or personal IDs. No reputable organization will ever ask for personally identifiable information via e-mail. An urgent request asking for this kind of information is usually a tell-tale sign. But when dealing with your financial and password information while on your bank's web site, continue to be cautious just as you would in the offline world. Whenever you are entering your user name and password, always confirm that you are doing this on the correct web site. Your browser's location window (the one with the web-address in it) should always tell you where you are. If you don't see the location or it looks wrong, start again by going directly to the site yourself. And, as always, be sure to keep your passwords in a safe place, and when on your bank's site, log-out when you finish your transaction before leaving your computer. In addition, continue to check credit and debit card statements regularly to make sure all of your transactions are legitimate. E-mail providers including Yahoo! Mail are working to put a stop to this type of online fraud by providing helpful information about phishing and other types of spam, and by developing back-end technologies that validate the origin of e-mail addresses. Yahoo! Mail also helps to protect users with free virus scanning and cleaning and SpamGuard, which helps prevent harmful junk mail from making it to your inbox. For more information, visit http://security.yahoo.com

Q: I rely on mobile text messaging to stay connected with my friends, but SMS text messaging so is so bland and one dimensional. Are there options to make phone messaging more interesting? Yes, sending text messages on your phone has come a long way, and there are alternatives to SMS text messaging that you should try. If you want a more fun, colorful experience, I encourage you to simply use your IM service on your mobile phone. Most of the downloadable IM applications on your phone make messaging less "bland" by bringing your entire "friends" list with you, allowing you to see the status of your friends and whether or not they are online. IM applications also allow you to see the full back-and-forth of your IM chats and have multiple conversations at once. Some IM services also allow you to send smiley faces and camera-phone pictures. Another advantage to this type of messaging is that your friends can either be on their mobile phone or sitting at their computer - either way, you will be able to stay connected to them and send and receive messages. The major IM providers make it easy for you to stay in touch with your friends while you are on the go - if you are not sure what's available on your phone, take a look at the "messaging" section of your wireless carrier's data service for downloadable applications or multiple other options depending on your device. If you don't see the IM service you want, try looking under the "portals" section for your provider of choice. Once you find the service you want, simply use your existing login ID and password to sign in. Many people are now using IM now as the preferred way to stay in touch while sitting at a computer, and these downloadable IM applications allow you to extend IM to your mobile phone while providing a more engaging alternative to traditional SMS text messaging.