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How to avoid getting spam email

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

Before registering at a site (e.g. NY Times), it is a good idea to read their privacy policy. Some sites retain the right to sell your email address to third-party affliates. That's the first step of getting onto a spammer's list.

Webpages/Blogs

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.

I am already getting spammed. How do I get rid of it?

Here are a few tips to reduce spam.

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.

So your old email accounts are spammed to death, huh?
If you want to get rid of spam, do this:
  1.  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.
  2.  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.
  3.  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.
  4.  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.
  5.  After a couple of months, disable your old email accounts, the ones that are spammed to death right now.
  6.  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.
Works for me.
-- SysKoll

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:

Final words

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.