Dealing With Spam
by Dale A. Robbins

Only a few years ago, if you used the term "spam" in a sentence, one would have thought you were probably referring to a meat-like substance in a can. However, today, virtually everyone is familiar with another variety of spam, a kind that afflicts our email accounts with every assortment of junk mail imaginable. Everything from get-rich-quick schemes to pornographic images.

Spam has become a global problem that clogs the world wide web with multiplied trillions of unwanted email messages. It has created tremendous frustration to virtually every  email account owner, while generating revenue losses in the millions to the corporate business world.

And if you have a web site, you already know that any email address displayed there is a prime target of spammers. This is where Quality Webmasters can help. We can reduce or eliminate the volume of spam that creeps from your publicly displayed website. We can easily install contact forms, or can encrypt your email address on your website with Javascript, cgi languages or other tricky methods. If we maintain your website, we can help prevent spam from leaking in from the web.

How do Spammers get Your Email Address?

In some cases, spammers have no idea what your email address is. They simply start with a legitimate domain name used with email accounts, such as aol.com, and then use software that refers to a huge list of commonly used email handles... or that randomly generates thousands of possible email names or handles to attach to the domain, such as bob@aol.com. They then use a validation software to quietly test which addresses are real and active... or they may actually send test spam to these prospective addresses to determine which are legitimate. Invalid addresses will produce a "failed mail" reply, while a valid address will not.

Spammers will also frequently get your email address from various forms you fill out online. You probably often provide your email address willingly to online merchants, guestbooks, subscriber lists and so forth. But sometimes, without your knowledge or approval, such vendors may add your address to a database which they sell to e-marketers. The sneaks!

In addition, some of those "free" web-based email accounts that are offered by vendors all over the web, aren't always the generous deal that they're made out to be. After you start using it, and pass the address on to your friends, they may surprise you by sending moderate amounts of their own select spam... or may even rent or sell the database to other online marketers. If you use an online interface to access your mail, they "may" even collect the addresses of everyone you send mail to. You may never guess where the spammer's got your address... but they may have got it from your tricky little email vendor. 

Frequently spammers end up with your address inadvertently from trusted friends or relatives that distribute their jokes, urban legends, or holiday newsletters to you, as well as multiple recipients. Whenever multiple email addresses are entered into the "To:" or "Cc:" field, "all the addresses" will be visible to each recipient. Eventually the circulation of such mails end up in the hands of someone who adds your address to a marketing list... or even Cousin George who thinks it's a cool idea to include you in his Amway mailings. Multiple addresses should only be entered into the "Bcc" field, which will prevent recipients from seeing the list of other addresses.

Finally, website harvesting is another method that your email address winds up on spam lists. A spidering software is used to browse the web and automatically extracts any email addresses found on web pages, encoded in html, or listed in online directories or DNS records.

How to Reduce or Eliminate Spam

1. When choosing an email name, do not use your real name, and select longer, more complex email handles or names that will be less common. Instead of bob@aol.com try something like 14bob236wolf85@aol.com. It will be less likely for a random address generator to guess your address.

2. Donít reply to spam messages. In many cases, the spammerís return email address will bogus, and even though some will invite you to respond to remove your address from their list, don't believe it. By replying at all, you merely verify the active nature of your address, which will only encourage more spam. 

3. Use caution when signing up for free email accounts on the web. Many such vendors are only giving you an address so that they can send you spam. Before registering for one of these, check out their privacy policy, and avoid any that do not offer a no spam guarantee. 

4. Never send email to multiple recipients using the "To:" or "Cc:" (carbon copy) field. If you do so, all the recipients will be able to view the addresses of other recipients. If you wish to send the same email to other addresses, always insert them into the "Bcc:" (blind carbon copy) field, which will conceal the other destinations on your list.

5. Do not enter your email address in an online form, unless the vender specifically guarantees that they do not send spam, nor distributes your address to others who do. If you must supply an email address, but donít have a privacy guarantee, use an alternate throw-away address from hotmail or yahoo.

6. Do not display your email address anywhere on the web. If you have a web site, use a anonymous contact form to allow prospects to contact you. If you must list your email address on your web site, use javascript, or another encyrption method, to conceal the text or html from electronic extraction... or you can also simply list the address by use of a non-hyperlinked graphic, or with non-hyperlinked text, substituting the "@" with the characters "(at)".

7. When all else fails, and bushels of spam start filling your email account each day, you can try using either client-side or server-side email filtering. Client-side filtering involves installing a software on your own machine that will use customized filters to scan your mail before downloading. There are many available, some more effective than others. Server-side filters, such as Spam Assassin, can be installed on a mail server (by a system administrator), to filter mail for multiple accounts before it reaches the email user (becoming popular with many ISP's). Or remote online email filtering services can be implemented via the web, which will frequently visit an individual POP email account, and filter mail in accordance to your predefined preferences. 

8. Finally, disable the HTML view feature in your email client. Generally speaking, HTML emails are usually associated with spam... and at the least are a serious security risk. In recent years, HTML emails have become popular, especially for marketing purposes. These are essentially messages that contain web pages, capable of displaying images, playing sounds and so forth. These are certainly much more attractive to view than plain text messages, but are riddled with potential security problems... insomuch, that many ISP's and web-based email venders now allow you to flag or block html messages as spam or security risks. It is a good idea to disable the HTML view option in your email software, and view your messages in plain text only. Among other things, HTML emails are used by marketers and spammers to violate your privacy by embedding links or images (with a numeric code) in the html that can track a variety of your personal details, such as your IP address, name and location, your personal browsing habits, and in some cases even your email address. Also, malicious or annoying scripts can be embedded in the html, that can infect your computer with viruses, worms or adware. (NEVER, NEVER open an email attachment from an unknown sender, and even use extreme caution when opening attachments from acquaintances... as even something as common as a Word Doc file can contain malicious macros that can infect your machine. In this day and age, it is an absolute must to have a regularly updated antivirus software installed on your system.)

 

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