Time to get a handle on your spam

Posted on January 1, 2005

It's difficult for me sometimes to understand why spammers do what they do. Do they really expect that the millions and millions of emails sent will provide income from the products they are selling? Do they enjoy intentionally slowing down the Internet to a relative crawl for email users? Do they have any idea why even non-watchers of Country Music Television have noticed that Shania Twain seems to be on an endless loop infomercial on that station?

Unfortunately, spamming can be somewhat lucrative for the companies who do it. There's not really too much of a difference in sending 1,000 or 1,000,000,000 emails. Even if just a handful of people purchase the product, the campaign would be considered profitable. And for the emails that can be deemed as valid in one fashion or another, the spammer has just grown his list.

There is a surefire way to get rid of your spam. Delete your email account, sell your computer and focus all of your attention on cable TV, specifically CMT. If this doesn't sound like something you can easily do, follow these steps to make your email reading a little more enjoyable.

1. Don't open or click links in suspicious emails

The easiest way for spammers to get your address is by you corresponding, even if by accident, with them. If you specifically signed up for a newsgroup or an email alert, the links in those messages are probably safe. But if you receive junk with links to unsubscribe, you will be doing more harm than good if you click them.

Just by opening an email that contains an image of the world's largest pumpkin, for example, can alert a spammer that your address does, indeed, exist. Newer mail clients allow you to open emails without opening attachments, which usually gives spammers email information (Just for reference, a mail client is what you check your email with. Most people use Outlook, Eudora, Apple's Mail or something that is checked through a web browser).

2. Use spam mail filters

There are various ways spam mail filters can be implemented: on the server, in an email client or by hand. Many companies and ISPs use blacklists to block various domains and IP addresses immediately, and other software provides a point system to mark certain emails as spam.

The best use of a filter, however, is by setting up your own, within an email client. If you are using Outlook 2003, check out Microsoft's site about preventing junk mail. If you are on a PC but use an earlier version, view this article showing how to set up various rules and tools. Apple's Mail already provides good junk mail filtering, but it also has the ability to be taught even more rules as you go. For web-based email like Hotmail or Yahoo, this feature is already built in. If your web-based client does not have filters, check with your provider about server-based filtering.

3. Encode your email address on websites

If you have a website, and your email address is on it, spammers can harvest it like pumpkins. There are multiple ways to prevent this now, by encoding it with javascript or making an image out of it. If you're looking for a quick way to encode email addresses on your website, try this simple mailto encoder. If you're already receiving billions of spams, though, this method won't stop those from coming in, but it may help slow the process down a bit.

4. Use multiple addresses

If you must give out your email to semi-suspicious people (pumpkin farmers and Shania Twain fan club members, take note), use different accounts. That way, at least you can keep your main account moderately safe, and even if spammers find out about your secondary account, you won't necessarily have to waste time wading through the unwanted email. I have multiple addresses, and although I receive some spam to all, it's mainly concentrated to an older work account. I can handle that.

5. Change your email address

If you get to a point where you cannot handle the amount of spam you receive, I (and many email experts) recommend changing your address. This obviously becomes a problem for friends, family and clients who have your old email in their address book. If possible, try to overlap the two accounts in such a way that you can send an email from your new address to people who need to get ahold of you. They should be able to replace your old address instantly. If you are adverse to switching, just remember that when people graduate from college or switch jobs, they almost always change email addresses. So there's nothing obscure with that occurring. The important thing, however, is making sure the same thing doesn't happen again.

These five tips should help you either reduce your spam tremendously or, at the very least, make you aware of the preventive steps available. My main email address receives around 10 junk emails a day, which is far fewer than my old work account. But I'm also careful about who I give my address to, and I rarely open emails that look like spam. It just takes a little more time to understand how to use your email, and once you've mastered that, you can be happier when you read your email on a daily basis. This should leave you more time to tend to your pumpkin garden and to build a scarecrow who looks like your favorite country music singer.