How to Stop Spam

This article was modified on 2012-09-24 13:44:02


Spam stands for unsolicited email. Ironically, you’re responsible for most of the spam that arrives in your email box. There are several methods that you can use to stop spam or at least most of it. This is a long article but once you read it, you should be able to avoid most of the spam that comes straight to your “Inbox”.

Introduction

If you hate spam, well I have some bad news for you. It will keep bugging you for years to come. I am an old Internet user and without a doubt, spam wasted a lot of my time. It’s not something that you can control but you can do your best to prevent spam. Try to create an email address and keep it for you, do not send or receive a message and there is a big chance for you to receive spam in one day. Why? Because there are many methods that will allow a spammer to get your email address and the purpose of this article is to show you how to protect from them.
 
 
1. DO NOT CREATE AN EMAIL ADDRESS EASY TO BE GUESSED
 
 
If you will create an intuitive email address you will receive spam even if you will never give out your email address. I call them “intuitive email addresses”. It could be your name written as the username of your email.

Johndoe @ domain . com IS A BAD EXAMPLE

You need to create an email address that cannot be guessed using a program

johndoe_june1970 @ domain . com IS A BETTER EXAMPLE
 
My name is Chris Parker, I just discovered the Internet. So here I am, I have created my first email address:
 
chrisparker @ domain . com
 
THIS IS WRONG: Spammers have programs that allows them to create databases with most used names and surnames:

SURNAMES: Chris, Amanda
NAMES: Brown, Smith

Their programs will mix combinations of names and surnames. Keep in mind that they are using thousands or even millions of names and surnames. The results would look like this:

chrisbrown
chrissmith
brownchris
smithchris

There are even more variations using the following method: by adding ``.`` and ``_`` signs.

chrisbrown
chrissmith
brownchris
smithchris
chris.brown
chris.smith
brown.chris
smith.chris
chris_brown
chris_smith
brown_chris
smith_chris

The result is as you can see, devastating, using such a program, you can create 12 users from nothing. Add the @ sign and add a popular domain name and you will see that there are many people that are using such addresses.

If you use a similar email address and you get tons of spam, now you know why. The only solution: change your email, a better example would be one of the following:

chris_park_z1 @ domain . com
Chris.park.cis @ domain . com

It doesn’t look good as “chrispark” but at least it will defeat this method of guessing people email addresses.
 

2. DO NOT POST YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS ON FORUMS, BLOGS OR ANY OTHER WEBPAGES EVEN IF YOU WILL REPLACE @ SIGN WITH AT.
 

If you comment somewhere on a website and you will post your email address you will receive spam. Spammers constantly crawls the web to harvest email addresses. They will find your email address and they will use it. If you replace ``@`` with ``AT`` you`re still a target for spam.
 
The explanation is simple: JOHNDOE AT DOMAIN . COM is still a bad idea. Many spammers will search for these expressions and save them in a database. Supposing that they saved 10.000 email addresses and all of them are the same such as JOHNDOE AT DOMAIN . COM.  Spammers will use CTRL+H keyboard combination and they will simply replace the word AT with @ sign. The result: they will have 10.000 fresh email addresses from people that used the word AT instead of @ sign thinking that this will prevent spam.
 
 
3. DO NOT REPLY TO HOAX MESSAGES
 
 
Such messages are a little different because they rely on people trust. Using a different strategy, the spammer will invent a story such as the one with Microsoft, I received one yesterday and it sounds like this:

``Bill Gates decided to share his fortune to people that are using Microsoft Windows``. He decided to share a part of his fortune to millions of people. If you will send this message to all of your friends you could receive $1000 from Microsoft. In this way Microsoft will select one user from your group and if one user will be selected than the entire group of friends will be paid. Let`s increase our chances and let`s send this message to our friends, we have nothing to loose``.

I received a message like this and guess what, I am going to receive spam just because one of my friends was stupid enough to trust this message. So thanks to my dear friend who didn’t know about this spam method I will probably receive more spam. There are thousands of new stories but never trust them, they are all created for innocent users, such as my friend.
 
This is a dangerous method that you simply cannot control. The spammer will use a couple of email addresses. He will invent a story that can be trusted by someone. Supposing he will send the same email to 100 users, he only needs one user to spread everything. 1 user will have 10,50,100 emails in his contact list and he will send this email to all his contacts. Again, another innocent user will send this message to others and so on...

The spammer will be able to get all these emails without using a virus or dealing with antispam filters. Simple and clean, it will use innocent people to do his work. I guess the only way to avoid this is to make sure that most of your friends are smart enough to ignore or delete such messages.
 

4. DO NOT OPEN SPAM MESSAGES IF THE SENDER LOOKS SUSPICIOUS
 
 
Email was invented to allow us to communicate easier and to share useful information's. If someone that you don`t know sends you a message with a subject that looks suspicious you should just delete it or mark it as spam or junk. Do not open such messages as probably it`s a message that once you read it will tell the spammer that this address is valid and it will send you spam. If that message is from someone you know than it`s probably not spam although his PC could be infected and acting as a spam machine. Try to think that a friend or someone you know will never send you a message that looks strange.
 
This method is mostly used if the spammer was using the first method (read the first method) and he needs to know that this email address is being used by you. Email providers have their own methods to prevent spam. One of them involves a “catch-all” filter. When spammers use automated programs with generated lists, email provider server will usually block requests or mark all of them as being real email addresses. When they use this approach - say that all emails are good even if they don`t even exists, the spammer knows this and it needs a confirmation from you, the victim. The easiest way is to send a message configured to report him if the message was read. If the message is read it means that a real, human being is using this email. It`s a tricky method that will convince many people.
 
 
5. DO NOT REPLY TO SPAM
 
 
Sounds strange but there are lot of people that will email back to the spammer trying to convince him that he doesn`t want to receive spam. That`s a bad idea as you will confirm that you`re real and that you`re an active person that checks his email daily and this will result in more spam.
 
When they send their spam messages, usually, spammers are using other people addresses to trick your anti-spam filter. So if you will receive a message from johndoe @ domain . com it`s a message sent in the name of this user but it`s not sent from a real email – the legitimate user. I said mostly. Best skilled spammers will use all kind of malware and infect millions of computers that are capable of such actions. However, most of them will use a technique described as ``mail forgery``. A spammer will use a program that will send a message using a list of email addresses, real email addresses. It usually tricks the mail servers and they will send the message to you.
 
 
6. DO NOT RELY ON ANTI-SPAM FILTERS
 
 
A good antispam filter is helpful but it is not perfect. Those filters are good for keeping some spam messages away but sometimes they will send a legitimate message to JUNK or SPAM. That`s why you need to check these folders just to make sure that you don`t miss a message that is not legitimate.
 
As you can imagine, the antispam filters were created to learn different spam schemes and tricks but there are not perfect. They are nothing but scripts that will take action if a rule is being broken or looks suspicious. Yes they were created to learn and improve but they are far from being perfect. The bad guys will always try to defeat spam filters by testing them all the time. This is their job and some of them are professionals. They are making money and defeating the antispam filters means more money for them so this is a continuous battle.
 
 
7. DO NOT BUY SOMETHING COMING FROM SPAM MESSAGES
 
 
You give them, you keep them on the business. If you will buy something offered in a spam message you are encouraging their business and they will send you more spam.
 
This is not all, think about this: who will guarantee you that if you will buy something you won`t have any troubles with the law? Maybe they are selling something that was stolen. A couple of years ago I saw many email messages about Viagra. I mean, it could be cheaper when compared with a drugstore but it could cost your health if those pills were made on a ship or God knows in what country.
 

8. DO NOT SEND PERSONAL INFORMATIONS BY EMAIL (PHISHING)
 
 
You should not send your personal information over email. I mean: name and address, credit card details, bank account details and anything like that. It is not safe and I never heard of a bank doing this but I`ve heard of people that gave their credit cards and their bank accounts. They clicked on a link claiming to be from their bank or from another financial institution. If you receive such a message, you should know that this is a phishing attempt.

This is not the purpose of this article but phishing is also a form of spam, the only difference is that at classic spam the author will try to sell you something or to advertise different products.

Phishing has only one purpose: to get personal information that would allow other bad guys to steal money from innocent people. From all different spam types, phishing is the most dangerous and there is only one golden rule. Remember that your bank or any other financial company such as PayPal (or other websites such as eBay or others) or others will NEVER ask for personal information through email.
 
 
9. DO NOT GIVE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS TO A WEBSITE BY USING A ``SUBSCRIBE ME`` FEATURE
 
 
Do not give your email address to a website that you don`t know. I would recommend you to avoid using the old method of ``SUBSCRIBE ME`` and I will tell you why. If the owner of a ``cool`` website claims that he will never rent, sell or give your e-mail address it could happen later. Probably in his ``Terms of Agreement`` or ``Privacy Policy`` sections you can read that if he is going to sold his website he will also sell all his email addresses. In the end your email address could be sold to someone else if this happens. The result: you can’t control this and you will receive legal spam if we could say so.
 
Wait! It`s more, that`s the good part but there are several well-known websites, I mean big ones that were ``hacked`` and their databases were sold to spammers. I mean it happened not once, not twice but there are thousands of websites. Many websites that were ``hacked`` didn`t made that news public and this is something that you can`t control. That`s why I would never use a ``subscribe me`` feature.
 
AS A CONCLUSION: Spam is not something that you can control, there is no such thing as the best protection. If you keep yourself informed is a plus but it`s not bulletproof. It will take years until spam will be defeated and I am sure that this will never happen as long as people will still use the email like now. You cannot stop spam but you can reduce it and most important you will know how to recognize the dangerous one such as phishing. I would recommend you to create two email addresses, one that will be used for everything and the other one for serious stuff such as: online bank account, PayPal or anything else that’s important for you.
 


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