Posted on 21 November 2007.
What is Spam?
- Spam is a giant nuisance.
- Spam is a waste of time and energy as we try to delete it from our inboxes.
- Spam is an unsolicited email sent to thousands, and sometimes millions of email boxes with the end goal of the email being some type of monetary gain for the spammer.
- Spam works!
We get spam because it works. The reason spam works is really just a numbers game. A spam email campaign that targets 10 million email addresses, can lead to 100,000 to 500,000 or so clicks. Most spam is sent with the intent to that you click on a link in the email which will take you to a website where you can buy the product, see ads for the product, or be exposed to some sort of malware or spyware that will further exploit your computer.
Spam is also sent as a means to phish for information. Phishing emails attempt to look like they were sent from legitimate banking and financial institutions. You are often asked to enter your username, password, social security number, or account number which leads to misplaced funds or even identity theft.
What can we do about spam?
Be informed and smart about how we use email and where we display our email addresses. Here are some tips.
“Send This”, or “Email to a Friend”
When you read a blog post or news article, you can often find a link to email the post to a friend. Unless the site states that your email address will be kept private, don’t send the article. If you use this tool to send the article, they will have your email address along with your friend’s email address. If you really want to send your friend the article, then cut-and-paste the URL into a new email and send it that way.
“Opt-out”, “Unsubscribe”, or “Remove Me” links in Spam Messages
Unless you recognize the source of the email as being somewhere or some site where you previously gave an email address, don’t bother clicking on these links. Most spammers do what is called a “dictionary attack” on domains. They will send to everything and anything @yourdomain.com in the hopes they will get a hit on a real email address. If you use the unsubscribe link, they will know they’ve got a valid email address.
Enter to Win
You’ve seen these boxes with an entry form nearby which encourage us to write down our personal information for a chance to win “something”. Read the fine print. If you give them your email address and sign the entry form, most likely you have given them permission to send you emails. Of course, if you win, maybe it’s worth it, but you probably won’t.
Gmail or Yahoo mail services are great at filtering spam and are getting better as time goes on. If you don’t already have one of these accounts, get one or both and start forwarding your mail there (don’t do this for your corporate mail). The filters will catch most spam and keep it out of your inbox.
Use a junk webmail account for registrations, newsletters, and contact forms from sites your not sure about. If you use Gmail, they also have something called “plus addressing”. Say your email address is email@example.com and you sign up for something that requires you to enter an email address. Instead of entering firstname.lastname@example.org enter email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. You will still get the email, but now you can setup a Gmail filter to move any messages sent to address email@example.com to a special folder. This is also a good way to see if the site you registered on is selling the email address you gave them.
Opt-out During Sign-Up
If you are registering for a site’s newsletter or other services, make sure to look for the checkbox to “opt-out” from other services. Most will try to send you “related” info from affiliates. Don’t fall for it.
Change the Address
If you want to participate in online forums, or have your email published on a site for some reason. Change the address slightly so that humans can understand what it is but bots that crawl websites for valid email addresses won’t find it. For example, don’t list firstname.lastname@example.org, list joeuser at gmail dot com, or joeuser@@gmail dot com. This will confuse the bots but the human reading this will understand how to reach you.
If you own a website, don’t put your email address on the site. Either use the “change the address” method above, or use a contact form to receive correspondence. A contact form is sometimes desired since the user doesn’t have to open their email program to send you a message.
Never reply to an email you think might be spam. The spammers will win if you do this. They have an address that is valid and that they can sell.
What are some of the techniques you use to fight spam? Do you have any suggestions? By the way, if you “email this” post to a friend, I promise to keep your email addresses private.