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Getting Rid of Spam

Spam has become ubiquitous - one of the facts of life, like taxes. Until strong anti-spam laws are passed and actually enforced, spam proliferation will continue because it's proven to reach a mass audience. If it didn't work, spammers wouldn't waste their time.

Most people, however, see spam as the scourge of e-mail and look for ways to stop it from infecting their e-mail boxes.

There are several ways to block spam from your e-mail inbox. They say prevention is the best medicine, so avoid giving out your e-mail address to unfamiliar or unknown recipients. This has become very difficult to do, however. Spammers can use software programs that troll the Internet looking for e-mail addresses, much like throwing a net in the ocean and seeing what gets caught in it. Nowadays it's almost impossible to shop online without providing a valid e-mail address. Offline stores are even asking for e-mail addresses in exchange for discounts or free merchandise. Realize that what they are doing is potentially opening the door for a flood of unsolicited e-mails. These organizations will most likely turn around and sell their list to someone else looking for valid e-mails. In these cases, it might be wise to have more than one e-mail address, one for friends, family and colleagues and another for unfamiliar sources. There are many free e-mail services in cyberspace to choose from.

However, also know that even trustworthy sources may be unwittingly shelling out your e-mail address. Ever receive an e-mail greeting card? The sender has given your e-mail to an organization that may very well be compiling e-mail lists to sell to spammers.

A second way to stop spam is to use your e-mail application's filtering features. Most e-mail applications allow you to block specific messages. When an offending e-mail comes in, set the filter to block further incoming mails from that sender.

A more aggressive approach to ridding unwanted e-mail is to report the e-mailer to the spammer's ISP. This is not always an easy task. First you must determine the spam's origins. Many of the bigger and more commercial ISPs forbid spammers from using their services and, once discovered, will actively ban the offending parties from using their services. But there are plenty of smaller ones that do not. To find the spam's origins, instruct your e-mail program to display all of the e-mail's header information. View the "Received" lines, and working from top to bottom you can often pinpoint the origin of spam. Spammers don't typically just send e-mails from their ISP to yours; that'd be too easy and apparent. Instead, they channel the e-mails through one or more ISPs in order to obfuscate the origin, but each computer that handles the e-mail will attach a "Received" line to the header. There are numerous Internet resources available for help in tracking down the source of spam.

Don't be fooled by phrases such as "to be removed from this list, click here." Spammers use these types of catch phrases to entice users to respond to the e-mails. The spammers may or may not remove your e-mail from their list. Either way you have told the spammer that your e-mail address is valid and reaches a real person. They know this because you responded and asked them to remove you from the list. This can actually be more valuable to the spammers because they can now sell your address to another spammer with the assurance that the e-mail address is legitimate. So you may have been removed from one list, but there's a good chance that you will end up on another.

Yet another way to deal with spam is to just not be bothered by it. Accept it as a fact of life. Delete the e-mails from your inbox without reading them and move on from there.

For more information:

  • Fight Spam on the Internet
  • Spam FAQ, including instructions in how to view header information for some e-mail applications.
  • SpamAnti: Provides information about SPAM and how to fight it. Contains many useful resources including black lists of spammers and spamming domains and white lists of supporting people and ISPs, numerous related links, and FAQs.
  • The Spamhouse Project: An organization that works with ISPs to identify and remove spammers from the Internet.

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