"Hot teens want to have sex with you!" "Lose 15 pounds in one hour!" These and similar phrases have become common e-mail subject lines since the first commercial spam was sent by a pair of lawyers in 1994. According to a European Commission study published in January, processing hundreds of millions of junk e-mails cost $10 billion euro ($15 billion Canadian) last year.
Spam incurs most of its cost through its transmission and storage by users and service providers, who also have the most to gain by stopping it.
The notion that the best defence is a good offence applies especially well in this case. Spammers can only spam you if they have your e-mail address which you can control by doing the following:
- Never post to a message forum or Usenet using your personal e-mail address since spammers can read your messages too. Post using a free e-mail account from Hotmail or Yahoo! instead, and make the account name hard to guess by including obscure words or numbers.
- If you must publicize your e-mail address on a public profile or web page, cloak the address to defeat automatic address harvesters. For example, use stuSPAM-ME-NOTdent@ucalgary.ca.
- Don’t use your personal e-mail address when subscribing to newsletters or registering at a site. E-mail addresses have value and are often traded with other businesses and spammers.
- Use an e-mail forwarding service such as bigfoot.com that lets you point multiple e-mail addresses to one e-mail account. You can give different aliases to different people and disable aliases that get a lot of spam. Bigfoot.com also offers spam-filtering as a bonus.
All the prevention in the world will not stop you from being spammed if spammers already have your address. If you do get spammed, there are things you can do to take action:
- You may be able to shut down the spammer’s e-mail and web site by forwarding a copy of the spam including full email headers to <<postmaster@Spammer’s EmailProvider.tld>> or <<abuse@Spammer’sWebProvider.tld>>. Include an explanation of why spam is bad (because it costs you time and money to download and delete, but you knew that, right?).
- Never reply to a spam or follow the removal instructions. Doing so confirms you read it and increases the value of your e-mail address to other spammers. Buying from a spammer will also get your address added to many other spammers’ lists.
- Most e-mail readers will allow you to discard mail based on the recipient’s address. Any mail that doesn’t contain "To: email@example.com" can be filtered out since most spammers will not address you personally.
- Don’t threaten anyone through your complaints or the spammer’s toll-free number even if you know your way around laws pertaining to threats and harassment. Threats rarely help the situation.
While more involved and technical means of combating junk e-mail exist, making use of these tips will leave your mailbox that much cleaner, and may even reduce the cost of Internet access in the future.
Вen Li can be reached at baNO_SPAMli@ucalgary.ca