How do I stop getting spam?

{mosimage}A couple of simple precautions and software available online can dramatically reduce the amount of spam you get.

{mosimage}Spam’s really annoying because we pay to download it and then we can’t find the e-mails we really want!

So, find out how to stop those endless invitations to lose weight, buy college diplomas or subscribe to any number of religious, adult or dodgy services!

Why you get Spam

The internet holds thousands of e-mail addresses and provides an irresistible audience for salesmen.

Because the net is so vast and mailing is so cheap (no postage fees!), there is little incentive for spammers to narrow down their mailing lists.

So the child in Aberdeen receives the same advert for Viagra as the pensioner in Chicago. AOL recently said that a third of their network was used to deal with spam.

What not to do

Don’t act too fast - some responses might just make matters worse. Here are some golden rules:

  • Don’t reply, ever!
  • Never buy anything from a spammer. Don’t make spamming worth the effort - plus you’ll get even more spam once they know you’re willing to buy.
  • Think twice before forwarding chain-letters or petitions. Mass-mailings like this still constitute spam and the lists of addresses on them are later used by spammers.
  • Don’t ‘mail-bomb’ the spammer who seems to have singled you out. The address included in the spam is probably forged or belongs to a mailbox the spammer ignores.


How they find you

People find that they get spammed once they:

  • Post a message on a newsgroup
  • Give their address to an online retailer
  • Sign up for an internet service that asks for an e-mail address
  • E-mail a spammer asking them to remove their address from the mailing list (sad, but true - more often than not this just confirms that your e-mail address is active!)
  • Give out their e-mail address on their own website

Unfortunately, once you’re on a spam list it’s practically impossible to escape. But avoiding these traps may help you avoid getting more of the same in the future.

First Steps

Now you know how valuable your e-mail address is, think about whether the sites that ask for it really need it.

You can always ‘accidentally’ misspell your address when you register. The only problem with this is some sites insist on sending an e-mail with your password to get in the site and without it you can’t get in!

You might prefer to set up an e-mail account solely for the purpose of writing to newsgroups or buying online.

Your ISP may offer you a number of addresses or you could use a free e-mail account from a web-based e-mail provider such as Hotmail, Yahoo! or Lycos.

In this way these special accounts will attract the spam you receive away from your normal e-mail account.


If you have your own website don’t put your e-mail address in a ‘mailto’ tag which can be detected by spambots. Spambots are programs that search for e-mail addresses over the web.

If you need to give your e-mail address on your own website you can spell out parts of the e-mail address or you can try ‘munging’ the e-mail address.

Munging means that the e-mail address is transformed into another form which is easily read by somebody but not by spambots.


Some spammers look for e-mail addresses by randomly combining popular names as well as words from dictionaries with popular e-mail domains like

So how do they know if the address is a real one or not? More advanced spammers put tiny invisible images into the e-mails that are stored on their website.

Then, when you view the e-mail, your e-mail program visits their site to get the image and hey presto, they know that your e-mail address is being used.

That’s why it’s a good idea to turn off the ‘preview’ feature in e-mail programs that shows you a bit of each e-mail before you open it.

Just previewing is enough to let spammers know your e-mail address is active so they’ll send you even more mail.


Spam blocking features

Your webmail or e-mail program probably has simple spam blocking features already.

For example, at quarantine folders can be set up to separate automatically what it believes is spam from the rest of your inbox, until you get a chance to check it.

And e-mail programs like Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express have filtering options which you can use to divert spam into a separate folder.

Eudora even allows you to delete spam before you download it which can save valuable time online.

You may need to turn these features on. Have a look for the pages on ‘spam’ or ‘junk mail’ in the help section of your mail program or webmail service.

Anti-Spam programs

If your e-mail program or webmail service can’t deal with the spam you are getting you could try a dedicated anti-spam program.

These automatically junk e-mail that they suspect, conveniently enough, to be junk e-mail.

There are two types. Some delete mail on the server and some delete mail on your home computer.

The good thing about products which delete mail on the server is you don’t have to wait (and pay) to download spam onto your computer. Mailwasher is one free program which does this.

How programs work

Most programs work by filtering your mail. The companies who make them keep a blacklist of spam and when you, or another user, ‘junk’ a mail it is added to the list.

This filters the spam into a separate mailbox or deletes it automatically, whichever you prefer.

Other programs look for special features in the text of the mail and try to identify whether it’s spam. So putting ‘XXX’, for example, in the subject of an e-mail would get you blocked by one of these programs!

Most programs keep the blocked e-mails for a certain period of time so if you think a genuine mail could have been accidentally filtered you can retrieve it.


Choosing your program

Here are some things to think about when choosing your program:

  • Does the program check for spam before or after downloading?
  • Does the program integrate into your e-mail program or is it standalone?
  • Does it work with your existing setup? Some programs will only work with certain e-mail programs, like Outlook or Outlook Express. Some programs will only work with certain webmail accounts.
  • Does it keep filtered mail for later retrieval?

Here are just some of the spam blockers: Mailwasher, MacAffee Spamkiller, Mailfrontier’s Matador, Cloudmark Spamnet and SpamBully.

Check out CNET and ZDnet for lists of more spam blockers.

Your ISP

Your ISP may be able to block spam at its gates before it even reaches your mailbox. Ask them what services they offer.

Increasingly, spam blocking is seen as one of the services a good ISP should provide. E-mail your ISP and ask them what software they use to block spam.

If you aren’t happy with the answer - think about moving ISP. It could save you time and money!

Source: BBC -

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