Minimizing Spam

Here are several ways to minimize the spam you receive, though it may not be possible to avoid it completely.

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Use multiple accounts.

You’ll need at least two:

  • A private account that you give only to your friends and other persons you trust
  • A public account that you use to register at websites and order goods online. For this account, which will likely generate spam, you may want to use one of the free email services such as Yahoo or Hotmail.
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Make your email addresses unique.

Make sure that each of your email addresses is a completely different combination of letters and numbers, with no obvious connection to any of your other addresses.

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Be careful about opting out.

Many spam messages will ask you to mark a checkbox or click on a particular link if you don’t want to receive any more messages. However, if you do so, you won’t really be opting out. Instead, the spammer will know that your email address is active, and you’ll get even more spam, not less. On the other hand, if you want to be removed from a legitimate email list, especially one that you intentionally subscribed to, it should be safe to follow the removal instructions.

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Use an Internet service provider (ISP) that filters out spam.

Ask your ISP about their filtering services. NC State filters email for spam and viruses.

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Use disposable email addresses.

A disposable email address is one that will forward all mail to your real address. A number of websites provide these, along with various services. Here’s how you would use one.

  1. Set up a disposable email address, either to use as a mailto link on a website or to hand out to correspondents.
  2. If spam arrives at this address, disable it. All messages to it will bounce back to the sender.
  3. Replace it with a new disposable address.
  4. Make sure the Reply-to: header in your outgoing email is set to the disposable address rather than your real one.
  5. Repeat these steps if spam arrives at the new address.

If you want to know the origin of spam you receive, you must use a different disposable address for each party to which you give your email address. Also, you can steer legitimate correspondents away from your posted disposable email address so that they won’t be inconvenienced when you have to change it. To do this, assign each person a disposable email address and ask that they use it instead of the posted one.

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Pay special attention to online forms.

Read each item on a form carefully, especially the ones in fine print. Make sure that checkboxes and radio buttons are marked the way you want them to be. The default markings will often result in spam.

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Camouflage your email address.

You can insert arbitrary extra characters in your email address to foil the special programs (robots) that search websites and postings for email addresses to harvest. This technique can be useful in newsgroups, forums and chat. For example, if your address is
myaddress@domain.com
then you could post it, camouflaged with extra text, as
my_remove-this-text_address@domain.com

Or you might substitute words or another symbol for the @ sign, since that is what the robots search for. For example, johndoe@your_isp.com could become johndoe_AT_your_isp.com. Be sure to tell human readers how to modify your camouflaged address before they use it.

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Encode your email address.

Several email address encoders are available. Most are designed for use on websites, and some can be used on forums or Web-based Usenet.

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Use your personal domain’s mail server.

If you own a domain, you can use a feature that is probably already on its mail server and works like this:
When the server receives a message that is addressed to your domain but not to one of your existing email addresses, it will forward the message by default to your main email account. Here’s how you would make use of this feature to combat spam:

  1. When you visit a website and need to give an email address, create one on the spot and make sure that it reflects the name of the site you are visiting. For example, if your domain is wxyz.com and you’re visiting abcd.com, you could useabcd@wxyz.com.
  2. If you later get spam at that address, you’ll know that it came from that site. However, some spammers create addresses randomly, so a spam message might be sent to that address purely by coincidence.
  3. If you keep getting spam at that address, disable it. All subsequent mail to it will bounce back to the sender.

Use a separate screen name in chat rooms.

If you visit chat rooms, use a screen name that’s not associated with your email address.

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Be careful about forwarding emails.

If you forward virus warnings, chain letters, petitions, and similar emails, you may be vulnerable to more spam. If something is important enough to send to others, create a new email and copy the relevant information into it.

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Broadband users: Install a firewall.

Use a firewall to prevent spammers from installing programs that would turn your computer into a spam-mailing machine. (What is a firewall?)

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Report spam.

You can report spam to several authorities:

  • The Federal Trade Commission – See Spam for an introduction to this service.
  • Your own Internet service provider
  • The abuse services at the spammer’s Internet service provider, which may have been disguised

Refuse to buy from spammers.

Spammers make money even if only a small percentage of their recipients buy their products, so don’t purchase anything offered in a spam email. That way, you’ll be taking an anti-spam position as well as saving yourself from a possible scam artist.

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Complain to product owners.

If you receive a spam message that tries to sell you a recognized name brand product, file a complaint with the company that owns that brand. Send them a copy of the spam message, including complete headers.

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More anti-spam resources

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