If you’ve had your email address for a while, chances are you have a steady stream of unwanted junk mail in your inbox. Some of the more common ‘products’ are:
- Porn sites
- ‘Get rich quick’ schemes
- ‘discount’ travel
- ‘gauranteed weight loss’ plans
- Home business ‘opportunities’
- Online gambling
- Stock tips
- Investigative tools to ‘Find Anyone Fast!’
- ‘Secrets’ to erasing bad credit
- Inexpensive wedding invitations, t-shirts, bumper stickers, promotional printing
- Diplomas, false credentials, international drivers’ licenses
- competitive software that ‘millions are using,’ but you have to respond to find out what it is
- bulk mailing lists so you can send your own junk mail to thousands of other unhappy recipients
So how do these people get your name? Since there is no worldwide system of directories for email addresses (like there are for phone numbers), you might have initially felt pretty secure that only your friends and business associates would send you mail when you first got your online account. But soon there are one, two, three, and finally the trickle turns to a river of unwanted messages to delete every time you check your mail.
I have had my Earthlink account for about six years now; and having the same email address for this long can practically gaurantee that you’ll be added to many of these lists that unscrupulous companies use to target with junk mail (also referred to as ‘spam’). These people understand that there are two basic types of email addresses:
- An address that a person has set up to communicate with other people, and that won’t be changed for a long time due to the difficulty in informing everyone of address changes. Like my Earthlink address, this is like gold to a ‘spammer’; they know that I can be reached over and over, and that the only way I can completely ‘hide’ from them is to also lose contact with many of my online friends.
- Short-term addresses that have been set up to accomplish a specific purpose, like selling a product, issuing a press release, taking a survey, making a political statement, or submitting comments anonymously to corporate ‘suggestion boxes’ often found on company web sites.
Bad guys love it when they find addresses that are type #1… it give them a ‘prospect’ that can’t escape from them. The worst part of it is, if email junk mail wasn’t profitable, they wouldn’t be doing it after so many years; so somebody out there is responding to these ads and encouraging the spammers to keep it up. Many individuals have found that responding to junk mail with a plea to ‘cease and desist’ only makes matters worse — not only because the spammers don’t care about your preferences; but because doing so verifies that your address is a working one, and you will immediately be ‘upgraded’ on their lists. You will have opened the door to an even greater amount of junk mail.
So what can you do? When this all began, the best advice was to simply notify the spammer’s ISP, in the hope that their email account would be deactivated for abuse or for breaking a ‘terms of service’ agreement that prohibits unsolicited mail. But that has become increasingly more difficult as spammers create their own ISPs, and have no one to answer to. And sometimes, the email address of the sender is not clearly presented; making it very hard to learn who to complain to.
Here are some tips offered by readers that have worked to a small degree; used in combination, you should be able to push aside these rude messages without having to delete them each by hand whenever you check your mail.
- Most email clients have a feature that lets users filter out messages based on certain criteria. If you see a lot of spam coming from a certain domain, for instance, you can have all mail coming from that server sent directly to your ‘Delete’ folder… and it will never land in your inbox. Just be careful not to do this to domains that your friends might be using for legitimate correspondence (like AOL.COM, MSN.COM, YAHOO.COM, etc.).
- Check with your ISP to see if they have the capability to filter out known spammers at the server. If so, they will be glad to keep junk mail from ever reaching your mailbox in the first place. The downside? Some ISPs filter out too much; I have a friend on AOL who can never get emails from me because AOL doesn’t ‘trust’ messages from MacBigot.com.
- Get two email addresses; use one to stay in touch with friends and business associates; use the other one whenever you need to post a message in a public forum or include an email address with contact information requested on a company’s web site. You can always change the second one, without having to worry about notifying all your friends of a new address.
- NEVER FORWARD A CHAIN LETTER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES (or ANY message that includes the text, ‘send this to all your friends’ – even if it says it’s not a chain letter, it still is if it includes these words!). Spammers use messages like this to encourage people to add their address (and several dozen others from your address book) to a long string of others in a single message — this becomes a big, juicy morsel for anyone itching to collect names for an illegitimate mailing list. If you are unclear on the concept, check out these links regarding chain letters, urban legends, and virus hoaxes.
- When you send a message to more than a few people (say, 10 or more?), put most or all of their names in the BCC: field so that their names and addresses are not visible to the more unscrupulous sorts on the internet.
- MOST IMPORTANT: Don’t do business with companies who send spam. Voting with your dollars may be the only true democracy left to the world economy.