How to avoid getting spam email
What is email spam?
In simple terms, email spam is unsolicited junk email. Spam is flooding the Internet with many copies of the same message, in an attempt to force the message on people who would not otherwise choose to receive it. Most spam is commercial advertising, often for dubious products, get-rich-quick schemes, or quasi-legal services. Spam costs the sender very little to send -- most of the costs are paid for by the recipient or the carriers rather than by the sender.
Getting spam email is not only annoying but very intrusive. Legitimate email is often lost amidst the spam deluge. Of late, spam has reached endemic proportions and a lot of dedicated people and companies are trying to ensure that spam is contained and does not render email unusable. Read this article "Field guide to spam" to understand some of the tricks used by spammers.
How did my email address get onto a spammer's list?
There are many possible answers to this question. Some of the ways are listed below:
- Mailing lists
Spammers usually run automated tools to get onto unmoderated lists and extract the member's email addresses. It is also possible that spammers send spam to the mailing list address and that gets forwarded to all the members.
- Site registration
Spammers use automated tools to trawl the internet and scrape off email addresses from personal websites and blogs.
- Usenet - newsgroups
Spammers use automated tools to trawl through usenet - newsgroups and extract email addresses of the posters.
- Email forwarding
People usually quote the entire mail when forwarding email to friends and colleagues. The quoted mail usually includes the original sender and original recipient's email addresses. If the forwarded email falls into a spammer's hands, all the email addresses get added to the spammer's list.
- Dictionary attack
Once spammers get an email address like "JoeSombody@example.com", they will try the same email account on other domains by replacing the part after the '@' symbol in the email address by the different domains like yahoo.com, gmail.com, hotmail.com, etc. You may be getting spam because your email username matches a valid address on some other domain that is on a spammers list. Unfortunately there is nothing that can be done other than changing your email username to something unique or unguessable.
How to prevent spam?
Here are a few tips to prevent getting spammed.
- Never use your primary private email address for registration at websites. Use a temporary throwaway address for all such transactions.
- Never post to usenet newsgroups directly. Use a web front end like Google alongwith a throwaway address.
- When forwarding emails, trim the contents of the forwarded mail. Remove unnecessary contents - especially email addresses - from the mail. Do a social service to your friends and colleagues.
- Avoid HTML mail - it is pure evil. Spammer's use web-bugs in html email to confirm your email address.
- Never respond to spam - even for opting-out. Any response just confirms your email address to the spammer. Also, it is possible that the spammer spoofed the sender's address and you will annoy an innocent victim.
- Do not set your email client to bounce or send Out-Of-Office mails. This will confirm your email address to the spammer.
I am already getting spammed. How do I get rid of it?
Here are a few tips to reduce spam.
- Never respond to spam.
- Set your email client to recieve only text mail and not render HTML. If not possible, work offline to read HTML mail - this will avoid web-bugs.
- Turn on all the spam reduction support included in your email client. Every little bit helps.
- Use a email filter like Popfile to filter your emails. I personally use this and it catches >98.7% of my spam.
- Do not give away your email address indiscriminately. Use a throwaway address whenever possible(See section below).
- Follow all the prevention steps listed above.
- Have patience. Lots of it. Over a period of time, your email address will be removed from spammer's address lists and you should see a decrease in the number of received spam emails. This will not happen overnight.
Where can I get a throwaway email address?
Depending on the occasion, you can use different strategies to obtain a temporary throwaway address.
Subscription email address
If you want to continue to receive email from a subscription service but do not want to provide your primary email address. Use an email aliasing service like Spamgourmet.
Syskoll - a contributor to slashdot - has given a nice explanation on how to avoid getting spammed. It is reproduced verbatim below.
If you want to get rid of spam, do this:
- Create a "secret" email account from a reputable provider. Make it unguessable. Add some digits or weird long strings. Don't give it to anyone.
- Go to spamgourmet.com [spamgourmet.com] and create an account. It's free and open source. In the "forward emails to" field, enter your secret email.
Give spamgourmet addresses to your friends. If your account name is Joe6Pack, give your pal Jack Daniels an address Jack.Daniels.Joe6Pack at spamgourmet dot com. To greatdeal.com, give greatdeal.com.Joe6Pack at spamgourmet dot com. This way you know who has what address. Those spamgourmet addresses are disposable.
All the emails sent to your various spamgourmet addresses are forwarded to your secret account.
If Jack, who is a friggin' idiot running XP and Outlook, gets yet another Kletz-like virus, the content of his Outlook address book will be compromized and all these addresses harvested by spammers. Just go to spamgourmet.com and disable the compromized address. Tell Jack he's a fool. Give him another disposable address if needed... Until next time.
If greatdeal.com turns out to be a spammer, just disable their address.
- After a couple of months, disable your old email accounts, the ones that are spammed to death right now.
- No more spam. Or if you get spam, just disable the spammed address and report the spammer to spamhaus.org. You'll never be spammed more than once.
Single use email address
If you want to provide a single-use email address and are not interested in receving/reading any mail received on that address, then use one of the following addresses:
Sparkingmailprovides a service where any mail sent to
your sparkingwire.com address gets delivered to "nowhere". You
cannot read email delivered to this address.
UPDATE: Last I checked the site is unreachable.
- <SomeTextHere>@example.com - example.com is a dummy domain and cannot be registered. So, any mail sent to this address will not be deliverable. You cannot read email delivered to this address.
- <SomeTextHere>@jetalong.com - Jetalong provides a free forwarding service. You create a temporary address with an expiry tim elimit and mails to that address are forwarded to your actual email account until the timer expires.
- <SomeTextHere>@mailinator.com - Mailinator provides a service where any mail received on the mailinator.com domain is retained for a few hours. No account creation or password is needed. Just go to their site and enter your mailinator.com email address and you can see your mail. Good to use when registering with sites which send a confirmation meail to your address. The caveat is that your email is visible to all other visitors until deleted by mailinator. So, try to use some unique unguessable text for your email address.
- <SomeTextHere>@mytrashmail.com - A visitor (Mike) to my site informs me that MyTrashMail provides a service similar to Mailinator above.
- BugMeNot provides a service to bypass registration on websites that collect demographic/personal information. To make it easier to use, there are plugins available for bothe Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers for easy access to the site.
Following the above steps will not eliminate spam but will definitely go a long way to reducing spam. You may still receive a few spam in your account, but these steps will automatically take care of most of the spam for you.