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Why Am I Getting So Much Spam? How Can I Avoid It?

Spam is considered by many as today's biggest nuisance from the Web.

It touches everybody's life, on a daily basis, no matter how careful you are.

Why so much spam?

Spam, unfortunately, pays. Believe it or not, some people actually open their spam and do buy viagra pills or subscribe to mortgages after reading about them in their spam. They may not be many, one out of a million for example, but from a spammer's point of view, one out of a million is a good number. It doesn't cost spammers a cent to innundate people's mailboxes with spam.

As long as some people will open their spam, spammers will have a good paying job.

The very first thing you can do to fight spam is to delete it, never ever buy anything or subscribe to anything advertised in an unsollicited email.

The fight between spammers and ISP's is a never ending battle. As soon as we ISP's find a way to block spam, spammers come up with a new kind of spam that finds its way through spam filters.

How can I limit the amount of spam in my mailbox?

Again, no matter how careful you are, you cannot escape spam. However, there are ways to significantly reduce your exposure to spam. Here are a couple of tips...

1 - Create and use a dedicated "spam address".

A huge portion of the spam you're getting comes from filling out online surveys, forms, or sweepstakes, or other "exclusive giveaways!" or "free gifts" (there's no such thing as a free meal on the Internet...).

Give away your email address once, and you'll be flooded with spam the very next day. Why? Because spammers collect valid email addresses, compile huge lists of valid recipients, and either use or sell those lists to other spammers. Once your email address gets on those lists, there's no way out.

Instead, get a free mailbox at Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc., and only use that secondary email address exclusively anytime you want to fill out an online form on a site that you don't completely trust. Let that secondary email account gather spam, not your Earthnet email address. And since you would use that email address only for suspicious online forms, you don't need to even check that account, since nothing legitimate should ever come from it!

2 - Do not use the "unsubscribe" link!

You may see at the bottom of some spam messages a link, required by law, letting you, supposedly, unsubscribe from (or opt out of) their mailing list. Although these are sometimes legitimate (for example, if you want to unsuscribe from a newsletter that you actually signed up for at some point), in most cases, they are a trap (especially if you never requested to be on that mailing list).

You have to think of spammers as a network, helping each other out. You may actually be removed from one mailing list by clicking that link, but here's the catch: clicking that link lets the sender know that their message was received by an actual live person. It tells them: "that email address exists, let's remember that"! So yes, they may just remove you from THEIR mailing list, but the very next thing they'll do will be to sell your email address to other spammers. And of course, the very next day, you get a ton of new spam in your mailbox...

3 - Never give your email address to someone you're not doing real business with.

Do not give your email address to any website that you are not doing real business with. It is OK to use your email address to buy products or services online from reputable sellers, or for government or administrative purposes, but NEVER give away your email address to the following:

If something looks too good to be true, then it probably is. Chances are good you did not really win thousands of dollars without even playing!

4 - Do not publish your email address online in plain text

Avoid at all costs posting your email address in plain text on any website. Quoting an article from net-security.org:

"One of the most prominent ways that Spammers collect email addresses is by writing automatic scripts that crawl the Internet and pick email addresses off of Web sites. For this reason, email users and Webmasters should only publish generic email aliases on the Web. These aliases should, preferably, be replaceable so that once spammers pick up on the aliases, they can be discarded and replaced with another alias address."

You can also write you email address on the website so that web crawlers cannot see it, online visitors. For example, replace all your plain text email addresses with images containing your email address, like this:

You can contact us at:

Human being can see the image and read your email address, but web crawlers won't.

5 - Do not use an email address that is too easy to guess

If your email address is very easy to guess, for example john@famousdomain.com, you can be sure that it will collect much more spam than a complex email address that is hard to guess, like crt546@veryraredomain.com.

Why? Because spammers often use randomly generated email addresses when they send spam. It is very easy for them to have a program generate email addresses such as john@famousdomain.com, as opposed to crt546@veryraredomain.com.

6 - Learn how to use our spam filter to its full potential!

Our spam filter is ADJUSTABLE. Anyone with an @earthnet.net email address can log on to their spam filter and adjust the settings of their filter. Click here to the instructions.

Moreover, our spam filter LEARNS from you! Instead of deleting your spam, mark it as spam, and instead of delivering legitimate mail, classify it as not spam! This feature is called bayesian learning, and it is different from whitelist / blacklist. The bayesian behavior learns from you what type of message you consider spam, it does not rely on who the sender is.

If too much spam makes it directly to your mailbox, without being caught by our spam filter, you can try the following:

  1. increase the sensitivity of your spam filter drastically (for example, use 0.5, 0.5 and 5 for your scores). This will result in getting all your spam in the quarantine box, but also a lot of legitimate mail.
  2. Log into your spam filter interface every day, and classify everything that is NOT spam as NOT spam. This way, you teach the filter what is NOT spam.
  3. While you're at it, mark the rest as spam.
  4. Do that for a couple of weeks.
  5. Then loosen the filter.

You will notice that your spam filter "thinks" like you, and is much better at findin out what is spam and what is not. As a result, you will get less spam in your mailbox, and less legitimate mail caught by mistake.

Why is spam bad?

The most obvious reason it wastes your time, forcing your to weed out your good mail out of the junk. You might even delete legitiamte mail by mistake doing so.

Besides that, spam makes email in general less user friendly and less reliable. With all this spam, we are now suspicious of every single piece of mail we receive. We have to keep our email address secret. If our bank sends us an email, we just discard it right away, suspecting it is spam. Spam turned email into a non-trusted way of communicating.

Spam also costs the end user money. Since most ISP's have to deploy costly solutions against spammers attacks, it increases the cost for customers. Spammers, on the other end, do not spend a dime sending those billions of messages.

Links

Spam Prevention Tips for Small Businesses
by Excedent Technologies - Friday, 19 September 2003
http://www.net-security.org/article.php?id=565

Tips for Webmasters and/or IT experts
http://www.neilgunton.com/doc/spambot_trap#48

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