“What to Do About Spam: Some Easy Steps” by Dee Crocker was originally published in the January edition of the Oregon State Bar Bulletin. It is republished here with permission.
Spam is generally defined as an unsolicited email, usually sent to many people at one time. Unsolicited email, or spam, is now a serious threat to everyone’s use of the Internet. Internet service providers are strongly opposed to it; it clogs their systems and angers recipients. Spam is frequently offensive and can be illegal when it involves pyramid marketing or rumor spreading. Unsolicited commercial email is just irritating.
Spammers “harvest” email addresses by stripping email return addresses out of something you posted somewhere. Your email address is then “sold” by others as a valuable commodity. You can add to your own problem simply by responding to spam. When you respond, the spammer confirms a valid address. Now your name can now be sold to other spammers, and thus it begins.
First, never respond to spam. Your message will most likely be bounced and no one will ever read it or respond to it.
Also, never respond to the spammer’s instruction to reply with the word “remove” or “unsubscribe” in the email’s subject line. This is primarily a trick to get you to verify your address. If you reply, your address is now guaranteed to get a lot more spam.
Then, it’s really necessary to take some affirmative steps to filter or block spam. See Spam Filter Review for the latest software recommended for this purpose.
Use an auto-responder function with caution. If you are using an auto-reply message, either through an Out of Office Assistant or some type of rule, this reply validates you as a live hit.
It’s always good to identify spam before it’s ever opened in the first place. For one thing, it saves time. Things to look for:
- Be wary of messages that state or imply that you have already shown an interest in their product of service. Anything that starts with “As you Requested,” or “Re: the quote you asked for,” for example, should be suspect.
- Be wary of messages that make it appear that your name or address have accompanied the materials elsewhere. For example, if you see that your name is included in a long list of recipients, none of whom you recognize, that’s a red flag noting something is amiss.
- Be wary of messages that claim to come from “a friend” or other questionable context.
- Some are so obvious you know just from the host name or subject line. Examples would be email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org, along with anything having to do with cheap Rolex watches, little blue pills, enlarging body parts, etc.
- If either the From or Subject line of an email raises any level of suspicion, it’s probably spam. Just hit the delete button — it’s crude but effective.
Avoid Receiving Spam
Use filters for subject or content words. Have your system filter words such as: free, loan, debt, resort, work from home, wealth, viagra, making money, secrets, snoring, investments, etc. If, despite your subject filters, you still receive spam, look in the content for a commonly used word in the email and add it to your delete filter rules. Caveat: Spammers know all about filters and try to get around them by using misspelled words. Instead of sex they will use seXXX, or instead of free, it may be freeMoney.
A word of caution: It is possible someone legitimately attempting to correspond with you may use a common word from your filter list. So be cautious in the words being placed in the filter, or you will have desirable email rejected. Especially at the beginning, it’s a good idea to check in with the spam filter program periodically to make sure that it didn’t correctly catch 927 pieces of spam but also two important messages you’ve been waiting to receive. Some spam filter programs allow you to “green light” specific email addresses. Once a legitimate correspondent has been snagged in your filter, that’s the time to tell the program to always allow email from that email address.
Use two email addresses — one for communicating with friends and family, and one for such various Internet activities as online shopping or chat groups or social networking sites.
Outlook, Outlook Express, Gmail, and Firefox all allow for blocking of spam. You simply indicate that further mail from an offending spammer is to be blocked in the future. Unfortunately, this too, is not foolproof. Spammers use a multitude of names addresses or subjects, so you may have blocked them once but they can come back using a different name.
Educating those you are close to will also help you. Essentially, these people also have access to your email address and thus, regardless of how careful you are about providing it to websites, they can inadvertently give your email address to spammers accidently. One very important thing that those with access to your email address need to know is that if they are going to forward a particular email to a lot of people, they should forward it by using the BCC option. This way everyone else’s email addresses are masked. If you forward it to everyone normally, and that email eventually makes it into the hands of spammers, then you have essentially just signed up everyone for spam. Thus educating people about the importance of BCC is very important.
Yet another way others could accidently expose your email address to spam is as innocently as a loving relative who really wants to surprise you by signing you up for that “free” laptop that a site is giving away. This sort of action, as I hope most of you are already aware, will likely lead to that email address getting spam. Thus, for everyone’s sake, it’s really necessary that in addition to making sure you know how to avoid spam, you also help others to know how to stay safe as well.
Get Back at Spammers
First, never buy anything from a spammer, period. Report them by forwarding their message to their or your Internet service provider (ISP). Paste the header and body of the spam by dragging your mouse over the entire email. Then right click and choose copy. Then send the pasted information and email content to the spammer’s ISP. Unfortunately a few of the big league spammers maintain their own ISPs, so your complaint will fall on deaf ears.
Also, report downright illegal email to: www.ftc.gov/spam.
Legal remedies are scarce, by the way. Much of the pornographic and gambling spam emanates from Russia or Europe because things can be a lot more lenient there. Spam legislation has not been enacted on a federal level in the United States, although several bills are pending. Unfortunately, as a worldwide activity, much legislation may be ineffective.
Special Kinds of Email Problems
The Hoax. Hoaxes would include “The sky is falling” and other scary things. Be especially wary if the email encourages you to forward the information to everyone you know immediately. Anything that sounds like an old-fashioned chain letter is best treated like one (ignored!).
Does the email quote a well-known authority or computer expert like a Microsoft or IBM executive in the message giving it supposed credibility? Does the email talk about the possibilities of untold danger if you don’t act now? If so, you may have a hoax email. Do not forward. Check out the legitimacy of any suspicious emails first with Snopes or Urban Legends.
The Virus. To help determine if your message is a virus, check its file extension. There are only five or six file extensions (examples: .doc or .jpg) that you should be receiving. There are several that you should NOT be getting unless you are a programmer. Right-click with your mouse on the attachment to pull up the file’s properties. If you see filename.txt.vbs or something similar, do not open it! Also, be leery of emails that have a blank subject line; this can be a clear sign they contain a virus. The best way to stay protected is by using common sense and by using a good virus checker.
Spam is difficult to get rid of once you’re on the spammers’ lists. However, it is relatively easy to avoid in the first place. The steps outlined above, if followed correctly, will render you all but immune to the ravages of spam.
Featured image: “Retro vintage clipart: Spam happens!” from Shutterstock.