Doing Battle With Spam
When it comes to the dirtiest four-letter word to be found in the world of the Internet, they don’t get much dirtier than “spam”. There you are online, just trying to connect with a few friends or see the latest cute cat video, and your email queue is getting filled up with announcements that claim that you’re either overweight, broke, or impotent (and in rare cases, all three), and how they have the solutions to all of those problems and more.
Not only is spam annoying, many such emails can contain embedded HTML bugs that give your info to marketers, or contain viruses that will wreak havoc with your system.
Here’s how to stop spammers from cluttering up your life, or if they do somehow get through, how to fight against them without resorting to physical violence, regardless of how justified (and satisfying) that option would be.
Keep Your Email Address Close
It’s no secret that many otherwise legitimate companies sell their customer email list to less than upright organizations which then proceed to bombard you with spam. Why these legit businesses do this is a mystery, though researchers have narrowed it down to two likely reasons, those being that a) they love money, or b) they’re utter jerks.
In any event, be picky about who and how you give out your email address. Sometimes, even signing up for something that seems to have nothing to do with email advertising can come back and bite you.
For instance, my wife and I recently went out for drinks and appetizers at a local chain restaurant. We were asked if we wanted to join their club, which meant we’d get text messages with promotions and what not. Well, after a few margaritas, most of us are up for just about anything, right? So we signed up, which included giving out my cel number and email address, and are now getting text messages from several random idiotic companies in our area code (yes, spam can even seep into the world of smart phones! Isn’t that wonderful?). Lesson learned, the hard way.
Blacklist the Bad Guys
Your Internet Service Provider, email host, or email client gives you the means to block offending addresses by changing your browser settings. Naturally, this means keeping an eye on the source email addresses and blacklisting each one, but a little work at the beginning means a lot less aggravation in the long run.
Some email hosts have automatic spam filters, depositing emails from dubious sources into a folder. If you have access to this feature, take advantage of it, but clean out the contents occasionally.
As an aside, sometimes legitimate emails get caught in spam filters, especially things like password change confirmations. Make sure none of the emails in such a folder are from websites like your bank or credit cards.
“Don’t Respond, It Only Encourages Them”
How often have we heard that advice? Although it’s usually used in the context of dealing with people who taunt or bully, it also holds true for spammers. When you see spam emails in your queue, do NOT open them up. Don’t reply to them, even if it’s to swear at them and cast doubt on their birth legitimacy, no matter how awesome it would make you feel. Don’t click on any “Unsubscribe” links in a spam email if you do manage to open it up. Anything you do to that email other than just deleting it outright will tell the sender that you have a viable, active email address, and they’ll keep sending stuff to you. And though it may take a while, if you consistently ignore them, they’ll go away, since many of these companies routinely update their mailing lists, getting rid of email addresses that are consistently non-responsive.
So how can you tell if an email is a spam message without opening it first?
Popular Trigger Words
There are certain words and phrases that, if you see them in the subject line of an unopened email, are red flags for spam, and in fact many of them will trigger certain spam filters. Words like “save $”, “free preview”, “meet singles”, “earn extra cash”, “lose weight”, “buy direct”, “Viagra”, and “Cialis” are dead giveaways, and such emails should be deleted, unopened.
A Nasty Subject Line Trick
I think we can all agree that spammers are the bottom feeders of the Internet, which means that they come up short in the honesty and scruples department. It’s bad enough when they pelt you with unwanted emails promising you eternal happiness, unbounded riches, and perpetual virility, but when they start actually employing active trickery, well…
One very sneaky and effective tactic is the “Re:” maneuver. When someone replies to your email, there’s usually a “Re:” at the beginning of the subject line. For instance, if you send an email to a friend with the subject line “I am clinically insane” and they reply, the subject line would most likely be “Re: I am clinically insane”. So, if you open your email queue and see an email that starts with “Re:”, your first impulse is to reflexively open it. After all, it can’t be a fake email; it has to be a response to something you wrote, right?
You opened a spam email. Congratulations, you’ve just confirmed that your email account is active. You just won a lifetime supply of spam.
A Homegrown Email Address
Here’s one that many people haven’t heard of. Try hosting your own email address, like through your blog or website. By not having an email address with a well-known extension like Comcast.net, gmail,com, or yahoo.com, you reduce the chances of your email address getting snagged by a harvester searching through popular sites.
No Strategy Is Perfect
There is no completely foolproof way of dealing with spam; that’s just a fact of Internet life. But at the very least, you can reduce the amount of spam you get.
How about that? An entire article on spam, and not a single mention of Monty Python!
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