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Stop Spam - don't allow unwanted email to waste your time!

 Unsolicited commercial email (spam), is the single biggest annoyance on the Internet.  In the last year over 439 million spam messages were reported to SpamCop, the premier spam-monitoring service.

It's a costly headache for businesses too, wasting thousands of hours of employees' time every month. But spam CAN be stopped if we all take precautions and don't let spammers get away with it!

So what should you do to protect your business, your family (and your sanity!) from the scourge of spam?

How to avoid getting spam in the first place...

Prevention is better than cure - do it right and you'll drastically reduce your chances of ever getting spam.  Here are the key steps to take to stop spam before you start getting buried in it:

1. Be careful to whom you give your email address

You have two options:  try to avoid spam, or just accept spam and filter it out.  Cautious people; just don't give out your address to anyone you don't trust.  Extroverts and businesspeople (especially the self-employed) who do make their address public; get yourselves spam filters.  Either way, still follow this article.

2. Ask "what will they do with my address?"

Whenever you're given a form to fill in, or asked to sign a guestbook – whether on paper or on computer - think twice. Why do they want your email address?  Do you really want to receive email from them?

Check the website's Privacy Policy, or ask the person who gave you the form, whether they're going to sell or share your email address with a third party. You could be letting yourself in for a deluge of spam.  Your wasted time is worth more than a small discount or whatever they're offering in return for your address!

If you do trust them not to sell your email address, then fine.  If you're not sure, give them a throwaway address, or at least make sure the address is protected by a spam filter. But if they don't genuinely need your email address – or you don't trust them – then refuse to fill in your email address. Make one up if you really have to e.g. nospam@example.com. 

3. Don't put your email address just anywhere

Put your email address on a website normally and you will   get spammed.  Unfortunately it's only a matter of time.  I've even seen it happen within a week of launching a new website.

One reason is because spammers use harvester computer programs which scan thousands of websites, indiscriminately collecting email addresses.  Stop spam getting to you: camouflage your addresses whilst still allowing ordinary people to contact you.

On non-commercial websites where you're posting a message at a forum, you can spell out your address like this: “yourname AT companyname DOT com”. Business or personal website owners see below:

4.  Website owners - protect yourselves

  1. Don't remove your email address altogether;  that would harm your site's credibility and make it difficult for customers to contact you.  The trick is not to write your address directly into the text of your website.
  2. Install and use an email link obsfucator to diguise your address everywhere you mention it on your website. The one I recommend is called Master Spambot Buster. if you'd like help setting this up on your website.
  3. Replace all the links to your email address with the scrambled version you've set up in the above step.
  4. Change the wording of the email links to a phrase like “click here to email us”;  or a small icon button; or a pictorial version of your email address.
  5. Put a contact form onto your site, so visitors can type in and send a message to you.  This is a good idea for many other reasons too.
  6. Don't set up a 'catch-all' email address.  It leaves you open to spammers' dictionary attacks: where they send spam to semi-randomly generated names at your domain until something gets through to you.  Instead only create the email addresses you're going to use.
  7. If all the above seems impractical for you, that's fair enough.  Just prepare yourselves to stop spam:  get a proper anti spam filter.

5.  Tip for computer-savvy people: Multiple addresses

Get a second throwaway free email address e.g. from  Yahoo! mail or My Own Email.  NOTE: many free email providers including Hotmail send you their own adverts to subsidise their service.  You get the level of service you pay for!

Website owners can simply setup extra email accounts or forwarding addresses (aliases). Use your website's control panel or ask your webmaster to do it.

Now give one address out to friends, family and trusted contacts. Use a second address for one-off transactions like shopping, booking flights and hotels. Get a third for surveys and polls, message boards, newsgroups, chat forums and instant messenging.

That way, when one of your sideline email addresses gets hit by spam stop using it, delete it and get a new one.

6.  Tell your friends

Your friends and contacts can inadvertently, or even deliberately, cause you to get spammed.  Their computers may get infected by a virus.  As a joke they could sign you up to unwanted email newsletters.  When they start a new business they might send you blatant adverts out of the blue.

Ensure they use some form of anti-virus software (unless they use an Apple Mac or Linux computer so are immune to 99.9% of virues).  Ask them not to sign up your email address for anything silly.  And if they send you adverts send them a note saying why spam is bad and how they shoud market responsibly.

What (not) to do with the spam in your Inbox

Prevention's all well and good, though what about those already receiving dozens of spams per day?  If you dont use spam filters so your computer hasn't automatically deleted it, how should you handle spam you've already got?

Don't even open email that looks like spam

Open it and the fact your computer accesses the Internet to display pictures in the message tells the sender you've read it.

Marketers use this tactic to measure how many people read their newsletters. Some spammers even use it to log the fact your email address works, so they can sell your address to other spammers. That means you'll get even more spam in future.

When you don't know the sender, and the subject line is strange or suspicious, delete the message unread. If you feel you have to read it, disconnect from the Internet first to be safe.

Don't reply to spam

Though it might make you feel better, there's little point complaining to most spammers.  Unless they're just an irresponsible small business, they won't even read your complaint.

If you really want to stop them, for a guide to getting your own back by complaining to the relevant authorities.

Forget unsubscribing

It's OK to unsubscribe from a reputable company you've previously given your address to.  Just NEVER try to unsubscribe from an email that you don't know how you came to receive.

Unscrupulous organisations either ignore your unsubscribe request, or register the fact your email address works, so they can sell it as a confirmed address. Again, you'll get even more spam in future.

NEVER EVER, EVER buy anything advertised via spam

The marketers and criminals who send out unsolicited email do it for profit.  Buy what they're selling and you encourage them to inflict more spam on us all.

Don't buy from spam, especially if ironically it's promising to block spam!  Treat any claims in unsolicited messages with a large dose of scepticism.

What else you can do:

Install and use spam filters
Report any spammers to the appropriate authorities - contact me to find out how.
Help your business and personal contacts sending them this article.

Do you have any stories about spam and what you did about it?  Do you use a spam filter?   .

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