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Preventing Spam

Ah… the Internet equivalent to junk mail. Tons of worthless advertisements for products you don't need and don't want. Use my advice to not only help you to stop getting Spam, but to stop helping to spread Spam.


Turn off Images in E-mails

Sneaky Spam using an Image to defeat the filters

If you read the previous article about e-mail viruses, you know that you can't get a virus from the images in your e-mail, but the images DO help spammers.

They use images to defeat spam filters (which aren't able to "see" what's in an image the same way we do), but worse than that, when an image loads in your e-mail, the spammer or company who sent it has a record that you accessed the image and when. This is bad for several reasons:

For all these reasons, turn of images in your e-mail. You can always allow exceptions on a case-by-case basis for regular monthly newsletters or pictures from your family, but find the options in your e-mail to turn off images by default or for untrusted senders (fortunately, some e-mail services are already starting to do this for you).

Keep Your E-mail Address Off of Websites

During my graduate research into Spam (yes, I honestly did graduate research on Spam), I discovered that the most effective way to prevent Spam is to make sure your e-mail address isn't listed on webpages.

It turns out that Spammers use programs (called robots) to search the Internet for e-mail addresses. This is really easy to do if someone just leaves their e-mail on their website without any protection as in this case from the University of Idaho:

University of Idaho web directory

Every member of the faculty and every student is listed here with all their data (including e-mail). If you want your e-mail on a website, use some trick to defeat the robots. Here are some examples:

Change "name@website.com" to "name AT website DOT com"

You might have seen this one before. It's simple because it's still human readable, but most robots can't read it.

Use HTML tricks to hide it

Some ideas I've seen are to replace href=mailto:name@address.com to its equivalent representation in html character codes. It will look very messy in the code (ex. href='mail…), but it will still look like name@address.com when viewed as a webpage.

Use a web form

Use a web form where they enter the subject and content of the message and submit it to a script that mails you. That way, your e-mail address is never exposed. The contact form on this page is an example.

Use an image of an e-mail address

Poetic justice! Just as the Spammers use images to defeat your filters, you can use an image to defeat them! Here's an example:

name@website.com-vs-

Notice you can highlight the individual letters of the e-mail on the left, but the right, you can't. This is because the right e-mail address is just an image of an e-mail address, not actual text.

NEVER respond to a Spam e-mail or buy anything from them

If you click a link in a Spam message, you're telling them that Spam is working (and confirming your e-mail address as well). Once again, they can prove to the scum company that's paying them that their ad has been seen.

Worst case scenario, if you actually buy anything as a result of a Spam message, you are supporting the problem. Spam messages need to be fully ignored if they're ever going to die out! Even if you see a product you actually want, find somewhere else online to get it. Chances are that any company that advertises with Spam is bogus or at least terrible anyway.

Note, you may have heard the advice to never click the "Unsubscribe" link in any e-mail. While this is true for true spam, you can safely use the link in any legitimate newsletter or mailing from a company that you created an account with or bought something from. However, when in doubt, just block the e-mail address instead of clicking the link.

Guide Navigation
|INDEX|next: E-mail Viruses

E-mail Dangers

Until we find out who the people are who actually buy things from spammers and kick them off the Internet, you're going to have to learn how to deal with and prevent spam.
E-mail Viruses - Learn how viruses are spread through e-mail and how to stop them
Phishing - Spot and avoid lures that pull you into the dark side of the web
Don't be one of those people that loses thousands of dollars to the classic Nigerian Scam.

E-mail Etiquette

Use CC only when necessary and BCC the rest of the time.
Use Reply-All when you mean to and never when you don't.
Practice proper E-mail Forwarding to protect privacy and make e-mails more readable.
Always personalize your e-mails to make it obvious to your recipient that it's valid.

E-mail Tips and Tricks

Using E-Mail Aliases Properly - Be careful about using sensitive data (like your real name) in an e-mail account.
Remember to treat your e-mail account with the security it deserves.
Use a decoy e-mail account to keep your main e-mail account free of spam.
Avoid using any Internet provider's default e-mail.

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