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How to Minimize Spam and Avoid Falling Victim to It

March 28, 2009

in e-mail,privacy & security

by David Hakala

Spam is “unsolicited commercial email” by most people’s definitions. There is debate over whether non-commercial unsolicited mail should be called spam, but it’s of concern mainly to the nonprofits and political organizations who don’t want to be tarred with the “spam” brush. Unrequested mail from anyone who wants your money or time is spam.

Spam is a huge problem on the Internet. Long ago, spam email passed the 50 percent mark as the largest category of traffic on email servers. Spam imposes heavy costs on ISPs as well as end users. How can you protect yourself from spam and avoid contributing to its traffic congestion?

First, take advantage of server-based spam filters. Your ISP probably provides spam filtering, and may even include it automatically with every email account. Modern spam filters catch over 90 percent of spam before it reaches your email inbox. Some ISPs require you to opt in for this invaluable service, and a very few even charge a bit for it.

But some spam will slip through filters to your inbox. Many email client programs such as Outlook have built-in “junk email” filters that catch suspicious messages and quarantine them in a junk-mail folder. Mail in this special filter is restricted from displaying multimedia files, which can contain links to malware, or running any sort of script that could cause mischief on your computer. You can check the suspicious mail at your leisure and mark its sender as “safe” if it has been wrongly categorized.

Do not buy anything found in spam, even if you want it. Buying from spammers only encourages them, and they will sell your email address to hundreds or thousands of other spammers who probably don’t sell what you want.

Never post your email address online where it can be read by spammers. They use automated “scrapers” to harvest email addresses from forum messages, newsgroups, and other places that display email addresses “in the clear”. Google your email address. If Google can find it, so can spammers.

Read privacy policies before entering your email address in a Web form. Reputable Web sites pledge not to sell, rent, or give away your personal information.

Never, ever, ever respond to spam! A response tells a spammer that an address is good, and he will sell and resell that address forever. The “click here to remove yourself from our mailing list” button may be bogus and will have exactly the opposite effect; you will get more spam!

David Hakala has perpetrated technology tutorials since 1988 in addition to committing tech journalism, documentation, Web sites, marketing collateral, and profitable prose in general. His complete rap sheet can be seen at