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The Web Team

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General Advice on Spam
« on: December 14, 2006, 10:01:07 PM »
This page is intended for people who are currently receiving spam and want it to stop. It doesn't offer any magic solutions, but we hope it might be helpful anyway.

1.1 How can I get off a spammer's list?

Short answer: you can't.

Slightly longer answer: as a general rule, if you didn't ask to be put on a mailing list, you won't be able to get off it just by asking. Most spammers have no interest in stopping sending you spam.

1.2 The spam includes an unsubscribe address. Should I use it?

Generally, no. Many 'unsubscribe' address in spam are simply fake. They just don't work. Your mail will probably just bounce back to you.

A second possibility is that the address is real but it belongs to someone who has nothing to do with the spammer. By mailing them, you're just annoying an innocent person. (For example, it's very common for spammers to use other people's addresses in the 'From:' lines of their messages).

The biggest danger is that the address really does go to the spammer. By mailing that address, you tell the spammer that (a) your address is valid, (b) you read the message that he sent you, and (c) you are naive and trusting. He's likely to send you more spam, or sell your address to other spammers.

1.3 If I can't unsubscribe, what can I do?

You have two main options. The first is to change your email address. The second is to filter your mail.

A third option, tracking the spammer down and getting them arrested or fined is more appealing, but usually difficult or impossible to do.

Changing your address
2.1 If I change my address, will the spam stop?

Yes, until the spammer finds your new address.

2.2 How can I prevent spammers finding my address?

Don't use it anywhere that spammers might see it. That includes posting it on a website, using it in the contact information for a domain, using it when you post to mailing lists that have public archives, including it in blog comments, using it to register on websites, and so on and so forth.

If you keep your address strictly private and use it only to send mail to people you know and trust, you are unlikely to get spam at that address. However, if your address is something that a spammer might easily guess or if a friend's computer becomes infected with a virus, your address might still be discovered.

2.3 What if I need a public address?

A good strategy may be to use several addresses. Keep one for your private correspondence with friends and family and keep that one completely secret. Then make other 'throwaway' addresses that you can use for posting to mailing lists, putting on websites and so on. When one of your throwaway addresses starts getting spam, drop it and move to another.

Free webmail services like Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, and Gmail are good for throwaway addresses for several reasons. First, it costs you nothing to make a new address. Second, they often have very good spam filtering. And third, you can often set them up to forward mail to your main address, so you don't have to check each mailbox individually. When the address starts getting spammed, you can just turn off the forwarding.

If the idea of using a free webmail service as a source of throwaway addresses seems wasteful or abusive to you, consider using one of the disposable email services instead.

2.4 I don't want to change my address. What can I do?

If you don't want to give up a good address, your only option is to filter your mail.

3.1 What is filtering?

A mail filter is a simple (or complicated) rule that can be used to decide how a piece of mail should be handled. Filters can inspect mail automatically and delete it, move it or mark it as appropriate. There is a brief general introduction to spam filtering at Wikipedia.

Most ISPs and webmail services provide some kind of spam filtering. Your email program may also support filters. Some modern programs, such as Thunderbird have good built-in junkmail detection.

3.2 How do I use my ISP or webmail provider's filters?

Check the help pages on their website, or contact their helpdesk. They should explain how you can switch on spam filtering (if it's not already turned on) and even help you to write custom filters for particular spams.

3.3 Should I use my ISP's filters, or my mail program's?

You'll probably want to use both, but in spam filtering, sooner is better. Ideally your ISP's filters would get much of the spam before it ever reaches your computer.

3.4 How do I write filters?

For a general guide to designing filters, see the filter guide at this site. For specific information about writing filters for your mail program, try searching using the name of the program and a phrase like 'filter tutorial' or 'spam filters'. For example, if you use Outlook, you might try 'outlook filter tutorial'.

3.5 Will filters stop all spam?

Probably not, but they will help reduce the amount of spam you see.

3.6 Will filters ever catch non-spam messages?

Yes, this is a danger. Be careful when writing your filters, or you may accidentally match real mail from someone you actually want to talk to. For this reason, don't program your filters to automatically delete messages unless you're really sure that they'll only ever match spam. Move suspect messages to a separate folder or highlight them in a different color instead.

The Web Team


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Re: General Advice on Spam
« Reply #1 on: January 15, 2008, 10:13:17 AM »
Does spam work?

Most spam is sent by unethical hustlers, pornographers and outright scammers. Many spammers have criminal records; some attempt to dupe people into revealing their Credit Card number while "ordering" a product or service that doesn't really exist or has minimal value. Another primary purpose of spam is to dupe legitimate home businesses into purchasing an email list or spam service. In many countries, sending spam is illegal and is a sure way to ruin your business. In short, spam may work for criminals and shady businesses, but it does not work for legitimate businesses.

Never respond to a spam message; it can lead to harassment, attempts to hack your computer and attempts to steal your credit card number or identity. At a minimum, it will lead to more spam, especially if you click the infamous "Click to remove" link. For these reasons, it is important to block as much spam as possible and explain the dangers to your employees and family members.
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