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Fighting Spam

Your entire email "Inbox" is full of new messages, none of which are from your friends. When you click on them you find that the subject lines are often misleading, and you find advertisements or misleading information to get you to click links to websites. Worse, sometimes you find requests for credit card information or eBay passwords which look genuine, but are in fact efforts to steal your personal financial information. What can you do?

What Is "Spam Email" ?

Spam email is unsolicited email, usually with a commercial focus. Other names for Spam include "Unsolicited Commercial Email" (UCE) or perhaps more accurately, "Unsolicited Bulk Email" (UBE). Spammers will send thousands, and in some cases millions, of emails to try to lure people into buying their products, clicking on "affiliate links" or, worst of all, to try to steal confidential personal and financial information from unwitting recipients.

Please note that a key aspect of "spam" is that it is unsolicited. Sometimes people forget that they have signed up for information from particular merchants, or joined particular mailing lists, and confuse the emails they receive with "spam". If you asked for it, it isn't spam.

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Why Do I Get Spam?

Most people who have an email address for any significant amount of time receive "spam email", and the longer you maintain a particular email address the more spam you are likely to receive. Spammers create lists of email addresses by collecting them from websites, buying them from other businesses, and even by guessing possible names on popular email hosts such as Yahoo! mail and Hotmail. It is possible to buy large email lists for relatively small amounts of money. Once you start receiving spam from a particular email address, it becomes effectively impossible to remove your name from the lists.

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Can I Get Off Spam Mailing Lists?
  • There are two types of commercial email that you will receive: commercial email from legitimate businesses, and commercial email from true spammers. Occasionally a legitimate business will be tricked into purchasing an email list from an unscrupulous person, and may send you an advertisement that you do not want. However, every responsible business that sends bulk email also makes it easy to unsubscribe, usually through a link contained within the email.

  • Spammers often include a fake "unsubscribe" link in their email, but they typically use that link to verify that your email account works as opposed to actually removing you from the account. Unless you are absolutely sure that the email is from a legitimate business, or is for emails or a newsletter to which you subscribed, you should not use the unsubscribe feature.
  • Unfortunately, there tend to be a lot more illegitimate spammers than legitimate, responsible bulk e-mailers. This means that even if you unsubscribe from all of the commercial email you at one time invited, you are likely to continue to receive increasing quantities of spam.
  • With spam, as the saying goes, the best offense is a good defence. Be vigilant about your email address, avoid giving it to people or businesses you don't know, and don't let anybody post it on a website. Some people create "throw away" email accounts on free email services such as Yahoo! mail or Hotmail, so that they have an address they can give out freely without worrying about getting spam in their "real" email account. Once the "throw away" account starts to receive spam, they switch to a new "throw-away" account. Some people even use different email addresses for every transaction they make online, save for communication with family and friends, so they can figure out exactly who is responsible when they start to receive spam.

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Tips To Get Rid Of Spam?

Listed below are a number of suggestions that can help prevent your email address from becoming a target to spammers.

  • Do not post your e-mail address in a straight form on the Internet. If you need to post your e-mail address, post it in a disguised form.
  • Check to see if your e-mail address is visible to spammers by typing it into a Web search engine such as www.google.com.
  • Lots of ISPs provide free e-mail addresses. Set up two e-mail addresses, one for personal e-mail to friends and colleagues, and use the other for subscribing to newsletters or posting on forums and other public locations.
  • Many ISPs also offer free spam filtering. If this is available, enable it. Report missed spam to your ISP, as it helps reduce how much spam you and other members of the same ISP receive. If your ISP does not offer spam filtering, use anti-spam software to reduce the amount of spam delivered to your inbox.
  • When replying to newsgroup postings, do not include your e-mail address.
  • When filling in Web forms, check the site's privacy policy to ensure it will not be sold or passed on to other companies. There may be a checkbox to opt out of third party mailings. Consider opting out to receive less opt-in e-mail.
  • Never respond to spam. If you reply, even to request removing your e-mail address from the mailing list, you are confirming that your e-mail address is valid and the spam has been successfully delivered to your inbox, not filtered by a spam filter, that you opened the message, read the contents, and responded to the spammer. Lists of confirmed e-mail addresses are more valuable to spammers than unconfirmed lists, and they are frequently bought and sold by spammers.
  • Do not open spam messages wherever possible. Frequently spam messages include "Web beacons" enabling the spammer to determine how many, or which e-mail addresses have received and opened the message. Or use an e-mail client that does not automatically load remote graphic images, such as the most recent versions of Microsoft® Outlook® and Mozilla Thunderbird.
  • Do not click on the links in spam messages, including unsubscribe links. These frequently contain a code that identifies the e-mail address of the recipient, and can confirm the spam has been delivered and that you responded.
  • Do not click on the links in spam messages, including unsubscribe links. These frequently contain a code that identifies the e-mail address of the recipient, and can confirm the spam has been delivered and that you responded.
  • Never buy any goods from spammers. The spammers rely on very small percentages of people responding to spam and buying goods. If spamming becomes unprofitable and takes lots of effort for little return, spammers have less incentive to continue spamming. Would you risk giving your credit card details to an unknown, unreputable source?
  • If you have an e-mail address that receives a very large amount of spam, consider replacing it with a new address and informing your contacts of the new address. Once you are on lots of spammers' mailing lists, it is likely that the address will receive more and more spam.
  • Make sure that your anti-virus software is up to date. Many viruses and Trojans scan the hard disk for e-mail addresses to send spam and viruses. Avoid spamming your colleagues by keeping your anti-virus software up to date.
  • Use the firewall included in your operating system, or use a firewall from a reputable company, to avoid your computer being hacked or infected with a worm and used as a spam-sending zombie.
  • Do not respond to e-mail requests to validate or confirm any of your account details. Your bank, credit card company, eBay, Pay Pal, etc., already have your account details, so would not need you to validate them. If you are unsure if a request for personal information from a company is legitimate, contact the company directly or type the Web site URL directly into your browser. Do not click on the links in the e-mail, as they may be fake links to phishing Web sites.
  • Do not click on unusual links. Confirm the sender did send the e-mail if it looks suspicious.
  • Never give out your login details to anyone.
  • IT departments should train their users not to give out sensitive information.

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How Do I Shield My Children From Spam?
  • If your children have email accounts, it is likely that they too will become the targets of spam. Spammers are often trying to sell products which are completely inappropriate for children, and spam emails often include very graphic pictures from adult websites. There are some software companies which produce filters to keep inappropriate Internet content from children, and if used they may offer some automatic filtering of such content from your children's email (particularly if it is web-based mail).

  • The best approach to keeping this garbage out of your children's email account is to set up their email so that they can only receive mail from known individuals. That is, you can set up their email on a service which allows you to set up a list of preferred email addresses, while blocking all email from any other address. That way, once approved, your children's friends and family can send them email, but spammers cannot.

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