E-Mail: Stop the junk!

Most email users receive a certain amount of unsolicited mail – commonly called spam. The odd junk email offering you easy money or free porn is not much hassle to delete, but when the spam comes in thick and fast, as it has a habit of doing, it can be a real pain. There are, however, steps you can take to reduce the amount you get – or at least the amount you see in your inbox.

What’s spam?
Unlike most Internet slang, “spam” isn’t an acronym or abbreviation, nor is there any logical relationship between junk email and canned meat. According to Net folklore, the word probably came from a Monty Python sketch. Whatever its origins, “to spam” means to send bulk email to a list gathered by unscrupulous means (or to post commercial messages inappropriately across multiple newsgroups. The messages themselves are also called “spam”.

What’s not spam?
Although some of the mail you receive might be delivered in bulk or seem irrelevant to you, it’s not spam if you’ve granted permission for someone to mail you. For example, you might have given you email address when you registered with a website and checked the box to keep you informed of special deals, or given the OK for them to pass your details on to their partners. This is known as opt-in or permission-based email. The difference between this and spam is that you should be able to get off the list by “unsubscribing”. If there isn’t an unsubscribe instruction within the email, contact the site’s support address and demand to get off the list. With genuine spam, however, you can’t get off the list, and the return addresses are almost always bogus.

Stop them getting your address
The first thing you can do is try and prevent spammers from getting your address in the first place. Guessing is surprisingly common. They simply take a dictionary of names, append it to a list of domain names, run a test mailing and perhaps cull any that bounce back to them. So if your email address is john@hotmail.com or jane@ a-major-ISP.net, there’s not much you can do to stop them. You can, however, prevent them from getting your address through Web forums and chat. Here’s how: A Set up a secondary email address for registering with forums and websites. Only give your main address to a website when you’re making a credit card purchase or you’re sure they’re reputable. If you do give your main address, ask not to be sent any occasional offers from their “associates”. A Never post messages to forums or newsgroups under your main address Either use a fictitious alias, your secondary account or “mask” your real address – for instance by changing henry@plasticfashions.com to henry@diespammer- die.plasticfashions.com. A human will work out what you’re doing and remove “die-spammers-die”, whereas a computer program written to gather addresses by a spammer will leave it in, resulting in messages being sent to a non-existent address. A Don’t enter your main email address in competitions or the like. Use a separate account.

Spam solutions
Spammers know they’re detested, but that doesn’t bother them. It’s a numbers game. They know there’ll always be someone stupid enough to send them money. There’s no point replying or asking to be taken off their list. They rarely use a valid email address and if they do it’s normally shut down almost instantly. However, there are some things you can do to improve things:

Junk mail filters
Modern email programs such as Windows Mail and Apple Mail have decent spam filters built in and turned on by default. If you have an older program, this is one reason to consider upgrading your operating system or choosing another email program. Alternatively, you could try a free third-party plug-in such as:

MailWasher: www.mailwasher.net
In Apple Mail (and various others) you “train” the program to recognise spam by selecting each unsolicited message and clicking the Junk button. As time goes by, the program will get better and better at spotting spam and eventually you may trust it to divert any message it suspects directly into a spam folder. You may first have to turn the junk filters on in Preferences. In Windows Mail, by contrast, the filter should be effective straight away, as the program downloads information about what is likely to be spam from the Internet.

Spam Arrest
If filter don’t do the trick, a more comprehensive option is to sign up with Spam Arrest. You have to pay a small monthly fee (around £2/$3) but it will cut out 100 percent of spam. Once signed up, you set up a list of approved email addresses (or entire domains) – for example by uploading your address book. When someone who isn’t on this approved list emails you, they are automatically sent a reply to verify that they’re a real person. Once they’ve done that (which involves typing a word into a box), the original email is sent to you and the sender is added to the approved list.
Spam Arrest: www.spamarrest.com

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