Drop Shadow

Avoiding Spam

If you use your e-mail for anything at all, you probably get a lot of spam and junk mail that you’d like to be rid of. There is no way of accurately getting rid of all spam but no non-spam. Even if everyone’s definition of spam was the same, spammers themselves will always be trying new tricks to bypass your “spam filters”. But you can do a pretty good job of getting rid of the most egregious spam. (New e-mail programs, such as Apple’s Mac OS X “Mail” program, are extremely good at learning what is and isn’t spam.)

There are three basic ways to avoid spam: you can try to keep your e-mail address secret, you can tell your e-mail program to “filter” probable spam into a separate “spam” folder, or you can tell our server to tag probable spam for later filtering by you.

Keep Your E-mail Address Secret

Whenever you use your e-mail address publicly, you run the risk that your e-mail address will be harvested. If you put your e-mail address on a web page (any web page), it will almost certainly get harvested. If you post to a newsgroup, it will get harvested. If you post to a mailing list, it might get harvested. (On some mailing lists, it can be harvested if you merely join the mailing list, but this is becoming rare.)

You can simply use an invalid e-mail address (such as any address that does not contain an ‘@’ symbol) when sending messages to public places. Unfortunately, if you do this, most mailing lists won’t let you post (for good reason—your fake address isn’t subscribed), and nobody can reply to you.

You can create a special address for your public uses, such as a free e-mail site. Once it starts getting too much spam, you can disable the account and create a new one. Since you are only using this for discussion groups, you won’t need to tell all your friends about your new address.

On web pages where you need to take comments, you can use “CGI” scripts to take the comments instead of posting your e-mail address. See, for example, our own Email Form.

Spammer Scams

Spammers will try to trick you and your friends into giving them your e-mail address. Any web page that asks you for other people’s e-mail addresses is probably doing so for the purpose of sending unsolicited e-mail. For example, most (if not all) e-mail-based invitation web pages will save the addresses of everyone who has been invited, and then sell those addresses, or access to those addresses, for spamming. You’ll also see “you’ve got a crush” web pages that are doing the same thing. They are collecting addresses for later spamming.

So make sure you read the fine print before ever giving out someone else’s address, and make sure your friends do the same. If they use an e-invite service to send you an invitation, you will almost certainly start getting spam.

Spammers will also try to guess probable e-mail addresses. You can’t do anything about the initial guess, but you can make sure that they are unable to confirm their guess. What they do is put images or links into their spam, and if you view the image or click on the link, that will confirm that their guess was correct. (E-invite systems will do the same thing, to verify that the address that your friend gave them was your correct address.)

So you should never follow a link from a spam mailing. And you should turn off automatic viewing of images (or automatic running of scripts) in your e-mail software. If you want to view images in an e-mail, your mail software will let you do so on a message-by-message basis.

On-line contests will also often ask for your e-mail address for the purpose of sending you commercial e-mail. Some of these companies will sell your address, others will use it only internally (until they are bought out or go into bankruptcy, or change ownership), but if they ask for your e-mail address, they are almost certainly planning on using it.

Be careful!

You need to be very careful when filtering messages: always pay attention to your filter folders for mail that you didn’t mean to filter. The filters give you the option of moving filtered mail directly to the trash; if you do this, you will never know if your filter is throwing out legitimate mail—until you get an angry phone call from a friend or colleague asking why you’ve been ignoring them.