Dealing with Spam email messages

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A beginner's guide to Spam email messages and some tips for dealing with them

It is a sad fact that anyone who uses email will be subjected to Spam on an increasing basis. But what exactly is Spam? Spam is unwanted or unsolicited email received in your mailbox. Normally this is distributed in bulk to a large number of recipients across the globe. It is the Internet equivalent of "junk mail" and telephone sales.

Spam messages normally fall into two main categories:

      • Sales and promotional messages 
      • Porn

Whilst it is an inconvenience to receive messages from companies selling their products, it is messages of an "adult nature" that are the cause of most concern and for good reason.

Spammers (people who send Spam) are very creative in the way they send mail. For example, messages may show up as being sent from System Administrator with the subject heading "Your account is in arrears". This makes messages hard for filters and monitors to spot them. Naturally you will open this message in case it is legitimate. Once opened the reader is presented with graphic images and text of a sexual nature.

No body wants to receive this sort of material, but is of particular concern to parents who wish to protect their children. Unfortunately Spammers are indiscriminate and do not care that the mailbox they are sending a message to may belong to a child.

How do Spammers get your e-mail address?

An active e-mail address is a valuable commodity and Spammers will go to great lengths to obtain them. Specialist programs can trawl through chat rooms, message boards, websites, Usenet groups, interrogate mail servers and much more. All with the aim of obtaining email addresses.

Another method is email lists. These are generated by less honest websites when you register your details with them. Lists are then sold on to anyone who want’s to buy them. It is advisable that you check a website’s opt-out options, normally in the form of a tick box and make sure you opt-out.

Can I stop Spam?

The simple answer to this is no. A lot of Spam messages originate in countries where there are little or no legal controls on what can and can’t be sent. However, there are things you can do to try and minimise the number of messages you receive:

  1. Set up a special email account for use on the Internet: your Internet provider will normally provide you with more than one email account. You should use one of these as an email address that you use to register with websites, shops, in chat rooms and on message boards. Only give your main email address to trusted people. This way you can just log into your "Spam" email box and delete messages once in a while.
  2. Do not reply to Spam messages: a lot of messages have an "unsubscribe" link at the bottom. You may be tempted to click this in the hope that it will stop further messages. In most cases all this does is confirm that your address is active and that someone is reading the messages. Report Spam to your ISP: most Internet providers will have a policy on Spam and will have a special email address you can use to report messages. There is little your ISP can do, but in some cases, especially for persistent offenders ISPs have been successful in prosecuting Spammers.
  3. Use mail filters: most email programs have mail filters, which you can set to examine a message for key words. The filter can then delete them as they are downloaded.
  4. Use a Spam filtering service: there are a number of applications and services that you may want to look at which filter out the majority of Spam from your mailbox. Some are free, some are accessed with a monthly subscription.
  5. Protect your children: monitor the messages they are receiving. You are more likely to spot harmful messages than they are. In the case of young children you might want to sit with them when they use email (and even surf the Internet).

These tips will not stop you receiving Spam, but they can help reducing the number of messages you will actually "see" in you inbox.

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