Tuesday, April 15, 2008

How to avoid and reduce the effects of SPAM

 I originally wrote this compilation of tips for my customers at GreenTree I hope you find some of them helpful.  

Unsolicited messages, commonly called “spam,” comprise approximately 50 percent of all e-mail carried on the Internet, according to industry estimates. Respectable businesses will remove your e-mail address from their mailing list if you ask. However, many spammers want to push their offers into as many e-mail boxes as possible and will take any response-even if it’s “REMOVE ME FROM YOUR LIST!”-as encouragement to keep sending out new messages.
Currently, there is no way to ensure a 100 percent spam-free e-mail box. You can make it more difficult for spammers to get your e-mail address, however. There are also steps you can take when unwanted e-mail does arrive in your mailbox. Plus you can ask your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and other organizations to help you identify a spam mail’s origins. You can use that information to try to block future mailings from known spammers.   

View an updated version of this list HERE:

Here are some tips to help prevent spam from filling your e-mail box:

  • Avoid posting your e-mail address in public. Many spammers buy e-mail address lists from brokers who compile their lists by harvesting addresses from Internet newsgroup postings, Web sites, chat rooms, membership directories for online services, and other sources.

  • Alter your e-mail address before posting it publicly. List brokers do their harvesting with computer programs that scan Web pages and newsgroups in search of e-mail addresses. You might be able to foil these harvesting programs by altering your posted e-mail address in an obvious way, such as changing joesmith@mail.com to joeH8SJUNKMAILsmith@mail.com. Most humans will know to remove H8SJUNKMAIL from the address before they use it, but computer programs will not.

  • Never respond to a spam e-mail, even to unsubscribe. The e-mail message may include instructions on how to remove your address from the organization’s list, such as telling you to reply with REMOVE in the subject line or to call a phone number. However, many spammers do this only to try to confirm that they have reached a real person’s e-mail account. Unless you are unsubscribing from a distribution list that you signed up for or you know the sender of the message, it is safer to discard the message without responding

  • Create an alternate e-mail address to use on the Internet. Your primary e-mail address should only be given to friends, family, business contacts, and other people whom you know. Consider setting up a second e-mail address to use when filling out information requests, applications for special offers, and other forms on the Web.

  • Apply for a free Yahoo or Hotmail account to use as a “spam sink”.  Gmail (www.gmail.com) does a very good job of filtering spam with perhaps 1 in 100 spams showing up in your inbox.

  • Set up filters to block known spammers’ messages. Many e-mail programs offer a “filter” option that you can use to automatically send junk and adult-content mail to a specified folder-or the trash. Many programs will allow you to filter on e-mail names as well. To ensure you do not accidentally throw away mail from friends and family, consider creating a “junk mail” folder for your filtered messages. Be sure to check the folder before you empty it.

  • Use junk e-mail filters in your email program

  • Consider reporting spammers to ISPs, e-mail providers, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Most Internet Service Providers (ISP) and account providers have a complaint address for e-mail issues. If you get unwanted mail, look at the return address. The ISP name should be in the middle (between the “@” sign and the designator, e.g., “.com”). Forward a copy of the spam mail to the ISP’s complaint address. Most providers will take steps to eliminate spammers from their system. In addition, send a copy of any deceptive or unwanted mail to the FTC at uce@ftc.gov. The FTC uses its database of unsolicited messages to pursue law-enforcement actions against senders of spam. (The FTC only can take action against spammers based in the U.S.)

  • Review all user agreements. When signing up for Web-based services such as online banking, shopping, or online newsletters, you should carefully review the corresponding user agreements to assure yourself that your e-mail address will not be shared with other organizations.

  • Don’t participate in email chain letters or pyramind schemes. Bill Gates is not going to pay you for sending junk email to your friends and family, neither is the Gap going to give you free clothes. Interenet “snowball fights” and other forms of chain emails are unwelcome on the net, and irritate most people who receive them. The same can be said for the “guilt letter” where you are required to pass on an email or you are a terrible person for caring so little about the mentioned issue.

  • Use the BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) field in your email program if you have to send an email to several people. This prevents everyone’s email address from being listed in the “to” field where all the recipients can see it. This becomes critical when the email is likely to be “forwarded on” as in the case of a joke or other ‘interesting’ email. While you know the people you are emailing, they don’t all know each other, or want the others to necessarily see their email address.

  • Don’t forward emails to others without first “cleaning” the email up by removing the previous sender’s and recipient’s email addresses. This prevents their address from being distributed beyond the people they know.

  • Consider the user of a spam filtering software like “spambayes” or “mailwasher” to handle spam before it gets to your inbox.

pam appears to be here to stay, at least for now. Taking these steps can help you reduce your exposure to this online nuisance, however. If you have more spam fighting strategies, I’d love to hear your ideas! Send me a message with your idea   

Know somebody who would benefit from some of the email “best practices” on this page? Send them the address (this link will open your mail program) and ask them to check it out.