Fighting Junk Mail
Posted on: June 22nd, 2010
FIGHTING SPAM (JUNK) E-MAIL
E-mail is a wonderful tool that allows people all over the world to communicate with each other for (basically) free. Unfortunately when it was conceived, its developers didn’t think of the possible abuses. They did not add safeguards to their design against malicious use.
Because of its openness, opportunists soon found that they could get easy marketing money out of sending out solicitations for services and goods. The cost of sending out millions of these e-mails is practically nothing compared to sending out postcards or using other conventional advertising methods.
Of course, people don’t like being bombarded with solicitations and having their in-boxes filled with useless junk. So the fight began. Internet service providers started to implement measures to curb using their resources to send out massive amounts of e-mails. But junk e-mail is still a lucrative business so counter-measures were quickly developed by spammers (people who send junk mail out).
Despite all efforts to stop junk mail, these days still billions of unsolicited e-mails are being sent out daily – as you probably noticed it.
The Best Protection Is Prevention
The first line of defense against spam is keeping your e-mail address available only to those who really need it. Here are the common sense guidelines:
- Have a private e-mail address that you only give out to friends.
- Never enter this e-mail on any forms in any website, except if you are absolutely sure that you sign up at a place that will not sell your e-mail address to a third party.
- Instead of using your private (or business) email address, create a “disposable” e-mail address on Yahoo, Google or any of the hundreds of sites which offer free e-mail accounts. Use this one to sign up for accounts, etc. This e-mail address will inevitably go into a circulation and end up on spammers’ lists and you will get a ton of junk on that e-mail address but you can just ignore that.
- If you have people that are forwarding emails to you, enforce that they do not expose your email address to other recipients of their forwarded messages. You can refer them to this article: Forwarding Emails – The Right Way. Chain letter, jokes, bogus virus warnings, etc. that are being passed on are frequently used by spammers to harvest email addresses from. I had a case when someone’s account got hacked within 24 hours of his email address being exposed to a large number of people other people.
Also you should adhere to these guidelines so as not to expose other people’s email addresses unnecessarily.
- If you are running a business and have a website. Make sure that you NEVER, NEVER put your email address directly on the website. Of course you want people to be able to contact you by email. And the best solution to this is having a contact form. Here people can send you a message by filling out a form but they don’t see your email address. However you’ll receive an email after each submission and you can reply to it. Another, less preferable, way is to obfuscate the email address using scripting. This makes the email address unrecognizable for automated programs but it will display correctly for the website visitors.
- If you are posting on Craigslist, Facebook, Twitter or any other forums and social networking sites NEVER, NEVER expose your email address.
The reason for the last two guideline is that one of the surest ways to flood your email account with junk mail is to expose your email address on the web. It will be picked up by hundreds of spammers and you’ll have an endless battle with junk mail on your hands.
This is a fairly new phenomena where spammers and hackers work together. Hackers figure out the passwords to individual email accounts and then spammers access the account and send junk emails to everybody on the hacked account’s contact list. This could be embarrassing because emails sent out this way are going to friends and co-workers, etc (not even mentioning bosses) but contain ads to Viagra or some other products. We put together a detailed article on this: Email Hackings
The single most important thing though is to have a very safe, hard to guess password on your email account.
What To Do If You Are Already Receiving Junk Mail?
Sadly, sooner or later you’ll start seeing unwanted email in your inbox. This is just part of life, similar to when you start receiving solicitation letters if you lived at one location long enough.
Fortunately, this can be kept under control as long as you keep the guidelines that I described above plus a couple other ones:
- If you get an unsolicited email, do not click anything inside the email until you made sure that it’s from a reputable company.
Why? It’s because these links can be set up in such a way that the sender will find out that you clicked on that link and thus confirming that the email address is in fact good. This could result in the multiplication of the number of unwanted emails received. The “unsubscribe” link is usually such a bait. Move your mouse over the link and see what the link is pointing to (by observing the status bar on the bottom of the window). If you see a lot of random letter and numbers then it’s probably a tracking link and not a real unsubscribe link. But check out the sender and the website where the link is pointing to by doing an online search. That will tell you whether to trust it, or not. When in doubt, don’t click!
- Do not download “remote content” unless you are positive that’s from a reputable company. The “remote contents” are usually pictures that are not included in the email itself but are linked and loaded from a website. The reason for this is the same as above. The remote content can be rigged in such a way that it allows the sender to track who actually received the email.
- Use the junk/spam filter of your email software. All modern email software and online email providers have a spam filter. It works well if you “teach” it what is spam and what is not. If you see unwanted mail in your inbox then select those and then click on “Junk”, “move to junk”, “spam” button (the actual wording depends on what software you use). Also from time to time check your junk mail folder for emails that were incorrectly marked junk – it happens occasionally. Make sure to tell the software that these are not be considered junk/spam.
Usually after about a hundred, or so messages the spam filter will have a “good feel” for what you consider unwanted and what you are interested in.
I found that Gmail’s (Google Mail) spam filter is exceptionally good, probably the best I’ve seen so far.
- Be careful with the “unsubscribe” links. Only legitimate companies will honor your unsubscribe requests. Other, shady, companies will use this as a confirmation that the email address is good and will send more junk to that address – so you might get the opposite of what you wanted. You can use a simple Google search for determining whether the company is a reputable one, or not.
- Blacklists, blocking of certain email addresses are practically useless against junk email. Don’t waste your time on maintaining a blocked sender list!! Why? Because spammer has long been using randomly generated, fictitious email addresses in the “From” field. So there’s little chance that you’d get another email from the same address. Blocking senders is only effective against friends who keep sending “jokes”, or businesses who send emails out to you that you don’t want (however most of these comply with the law and provide easy un-subscribing). These can be blocked easily because the sender’s email address is not changing all the time.
What If You Are “Under Siege” by Spammers?
If your email address has been circulated around too much you might find that vast majority of your email you receive is spam. You could try fighting it by using spam filters but that carries with it the liability of losing important emails that might get dumped as junk mail due to the high level of filtering.
In this case you might want to consider abandoning your email address and starting a new one. If you had that email address for a long time then it might be quite a challenge and you will need to weigh carefully the pros and cons of switching.
The basic procedure of making a switch is this:
- Back up your important emails and contacts.
- Create a new account and restore your emails (if necessary) and contacts to that.
- Send out an email from your new email to all contacts that you wish to stay in contact with to the effect of announcing your new email address and asking them to send communications to the new address in the future. (This, again, can be a lengthy process – but necessary).
Make sure this list is thoroughly checked and contains only those people you actually wish to receive emails from.
If you had an ISP (Internet Service Provider) dependent email address (eg: ending in @sbcglobal.net, @att.net, @comcast.net, @indy.rr.com, etc.) then it would be a smart thing to switch to an ISP independent email such as Gmail, Yahoo, etc. See article Smart Things To Do: Emails which explains the advantages of this move.
Well, this might looks like a long list but most of it is just common sense (once you understand how spammers operate).
I hope you have found this useful and please feel free to share this information with your friends (you can use the Share button on the top to do that).
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