Fighting Back Against Spam

Spam wastes your time, and when you’re using your mobile device, it wastes your money. Of course I’m not talking about Hawaii’s favorite canned meat; I’m talking about unsolicited commercial e-mail, junk e-mail in fact. Once your e-mail finds its way onto a spammer’s list, your inbox is inundated with spam advertising from personal enhancement ads to car loan notices and everything in between.

Fighting Back Against Spam

Spam Filters

Many e-mail service providers provide some sort of anti-spam service that filters out spam messages with varying degrees of success. If you have access to one of these services I suggest that you use it, but monitor it to make sure that it doesn’t mistake your legitimate e-mail for spam. Spam filters usually move suspected spam to a junk folder where you can view it at your convenience, just to make sure that no real mail gets deleted by mistake.

Spam Prevention

The best way to reduce spam is to prevent your e-mail address from getting on a spammer’s e-mail list in the first place. When one spammer has it, they will all get it sooner or later. Also, once you’re on a list there’s no way to get off of all of them; you’re going to get spam forever.

There are a few ways that you can avoid getting on spam lists though –

  • Don’t ever give out your real e-mail address when filling out online forms, especially when you’re entering contests or claiming “free” prizes.
  • Don’t post your e-mail address to Web sites or discussion and news groups.
  • Don’t post to discussion or news groups from your real e-mail account.

Consider setting up a throwaway or junk e-mail account that you can use as the address you give out when you sign up for stuff online. This way once the address starts finding its way onto spammer lists, the spam doesn’t wind up in your real inbox. Periodically, you can log in and check the spam account to delete piled up messages and make sure that no important mail is waiting there among the spam. Also, if you use a free e-mail service you’ll have to log in periodically to keep the account active.

If you participate in Usenet or other discussion groups, don’t post from your real e-mail account. Spammers use automated software that scans groups and compiles lists of e-mail addresses. Post from your throwaway account, and keep your inbox spam-free.

The automated software that spammers use also can detect and copy e-mail addresses from Web pages and the bodies of news postings. If you post from your junk account but list your real e-mail address in the message body you’ll end up on the junk e-mail lists. If you must post your real e-mail address, obfuscate it so that the spammers scanning software won’t recognize it as an address.

For example, if your e-mail address is you@yourisp.com, you could post it as “you at yourisp dot com” or “youNOSPAM@yourNOSPAMisp.com.”

Either one would be decipherable by a reasonably intelligent human being, but not by a spam-bot.

Reporting Spam

Besides filtering, another step that you should take is to report spam. Rather than ducking and hiding we should start hitting back. Many spammers use (abuse) someone else’s mail server, often without their knowledge. If you take the time to report the spam, mail administrators can take action and stop spammers from abusing their servers. Web sites that use spam to advertise may be in violation of their service agreements and reporting the spam can get them shut down.

The best reporting tool I have found is Spamcop.net. Once you register, you can report spam through an online form or by forwarding spam to an e-mail address that they assign you. You also can get a spamcop.net e-mail address, which spamcop.net monitors to filter out spam.

About Lee Munson

Lee's non-technical background allows him to write about internet security in a clear way that is understandable to both IT professionals and people just like you who need simple answers to your security questions.

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