Fleck's Tech Links


   What's All This Noise About Spam?

Why am I getting all this junk mail (Spam) in my email?

As the internet has grown in popularity with both people and business, advertisers see a huge pot of potential customers to send their ads to. And just as its cheaper for you to send an email than it is to send regular mail, it’s a lot cheaper for advertisers too. For the cost of a huge list of email addresses and email hosting, they can send thousands and thousands of emails to prospective customers for just a few dollars. Its this huge potential pot of new business coupled with the low cost for sending their ads that makes this the new focus of advertising for many companies.

And getting one or two advertisements in your email is no big deal right? But what about when its 50, 75, 100 or more every day? Every one of those messages requires your attention to determine if its junk mail or if it’s a message of some value to you. Or, alternately you can spend money for filtering software. But you’re just one person. Now think in terms of a corporation, and how much lost productivity or added expense can be attributed to junk emails every day of the week as all the employees try to handle their unsolicited emails.

Spam has become such a huge problem for business that many businesses are examining whether the waste of employees' time, the wasted network resources, and the dollars pumped into prevention are worth it.  Having a web presence is almost expected in today's business climate.  But corporations are now examining their exposure, in part due to spam, and limiting their employees' access to the internet and email.

So how do they get my email address in the first place?

There are several ways that spammers get your email address. First, they run “harvesters” that scan web pages, bulletin boards and newsgroups for email addresses and save them in a huge database. Ever post a message on a newsgroup and made the mistake of using your real email address? Guess what… the harvesters will find your email address and add it to the database, which is then sold to more and more spammers. Oh, and that “click here to keep from getting these messages” – that just tells them the email address is still valid, which makes it more valuable and gets it added to a list of known good addresses, which is sold for even more money. So even if they honor your request to stop sending you ads, they might sell your email address to a hundred other spammers, resulting in even more unwanted email in your inbox. Many of those “free” screen savers and lotteries and online greeting cards and other free things on the net are oftentimes nothing more than email address collection schemes. Add in viruses and spyware that steal your address book and forward it down the line, and before you know it your one or two spams a day have become 100.

So what can I do to stop getting spam?

Once you’re getting a lot of spam its almost impossible to stop getting it, short of giving up your email address. But that would be like moving because you get so much junk mail in your mailbox at home. The first thing you need to do is practice prevention. There are certain activities that you might engage in online that put you more at risk to start getting spam:

  • Develop a list of reputable sources to download software from. Don’t fall for the free screensaver ads or the online sweepstakes or lotteries that promise you a chance at winning a prize. Instead, stick with the major providers to download software from or send online greetings through.
  • If you post messages to newsgroups, either provide a false email address or hide your email within bogus characters such as mike#nospam#@fleckens.com. That makes it harder or impossible for the harvester programs to find your email address.
  • Never unsubscribe from spam that you get. You’re just letting the sender know that they reached a valid email address, making your address even more valuable and likely to be sold.
  • Use modern, more sophisticated email programs. Many modern email programs have spam filters built in, allowing you create rules to move suspected spam to a junk folder or delete it altogether. Also, spammers have gotten so sophisticated that by incorporating a picture into the email they send you, they can verify that your address is valid. It seems that when you open the email, the picture they incorporated downloads to your computer, and their server logs your email address as a valid address. So now some email programs don’t open pictures in email unless the sender is on your trusted list or you click a button to open the pictures.
  • If you visit a lot of websites that ask you to provide your email address to log in, have a “junk” email address that you give out for those sites. The more you protect your real email address by not giving it out, the longer it will take for the spammers to find you.
  • Buy filtering software. While the filters built into many of the new email clients have gotten pretty sophisticated, much of the email filtering software is even better. It learns as you use it what types of email you see as spam, which senders you don’t want email from, and even what subjects you don’t want email about. Tired of all the email from online casinos? Just create a rule saying that email with casino in the subject line should be sent to the junk folder.
  • Never, ever buy anything from an email advertisement that you didn’t request. Sure, you didn’t realize you couldn’t live without that Deluxe Whizbanger until you got the ad, but instead of buying it from that spammer, find a reputable source for it and buy it from them. By supporting the spammers, you’re perpetuating the problem.
  • Sometimes a reputable company will hire a publicity firm to do their advertising. Maybe they didn’t check references, maybe they don’t care, who knows. But from time to time you’ll get email selling products or services from reputable companies. We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say chances are they’re not aware that the firm they hired is using spam to try to sell the product. If you make contact with the reputable company, you might actually get the spammer fined.
  • Some governments have passed laws making spam illegal. The only problem is that many of the spammers operate out of other countries that don’t enforce spamming laws. As they say, the world is one place because of the internet. But there are places where you can forward your spam emails that hope to track down, and shut down, the offenders.
  • Ever get an email that was sent to a whole bunch of people, and everybody's email address is clearly shown at the top?  If you're going to forward that excellent joke to all of your friends do them a HUGE favor.  Send the email to yourself, and then blind copy (BCC) everyone on the message.  So now when the message gets forwarded around to everyone and their friends, it only shows your email address.  Ask your friends to do the same.

Again, the best thing you can do is practice prevention. Once the floodgates are open, there’s often no way of closing them.  Most importantly, realize that until there is no profit in spam it will not go away. 

Another danger is that a lot of spam is tied to internet fraud.  All those emails for prescription drugs that you can buy online may not only be spam, but may be fraudulent too.  You may reply to their ad and end up giving them your credit card number to buy those pills (unlawfully).  Not only might you not get your pills, you might find enormous charges against your card.  Another common one is for super cheap software.  What you're probably going to get if you buy it (if you receive anything) is an illegal copy of the program that may or may not even be able to be installed and registered.  Never, ever, ever buy anything from an advertising email unless it is one that you subscribe to or otherwise asked to get. 

>>> Back to Fleck's Tech Menu <<<


Hit Counter