HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
July 23, 2007, Herald Journal

You’ve got spam . . . now what?

By MARK OLLIG

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines “spam” as “…unsolicited usually commercial e-mail sent to a large number of addresses.”

Lately, it seems I am receiving more spam e-mails.

Are you receiving more unsolicited e-mail messages too?

As more of us use e-mail to correspond with each other – more companies, retailers and individuals are increasingly finding and using our e-mail addresses to advertise their products and services.

Most of us probably find unsolicited commercial e-mail not only annoying, but time consuming – as we eventually need to sort though and delete them.

Generally, an e-mail “spammer” or a person that sends you “unsolicited e-mails” buys a list of e-mail addresses from a “list broker,” who accumulates it by “harvesting” addresses from the Internet.

So, if your e-mail address appears in a blog, a newsgroup posting, on a web site, chat room, or in an online service membership directory, chances are good it may find its way “harvested” onto these e-mail broker lists.

Once the spammers have compiled a large list, they will use special e-mail distribution software that can “broadcast” or send hundreds of thousands, or even millions ---of e-mail messages with the click of a mouse.

So, what things can we do to reduce the amount of spam we receive? For one, take care where you display your personal primary e-mail address in public. That includes those newsgroup postings, chat rooms, blogs, web sites or online service’s membership directories.

Check the privacy policy when you submit your e-mail address to a web site. See if it allows the company to sell your address. You might not want to submit your e-mail address to any web sites that won’t protect it.

Read and understand the entire form before you transmit personal information through a web site. Some web sites will ask if you want to receive e-mail from their partners or third-party venders.

You could send a copy of the unsolicited e-mail to your Internet Service Provider. By doing this, you can let the ISP know about the spam problem on their system and help them to stop it in the future.

Decide if you want to use two e-mail addresses. You could use one for personal messages only sent to family and close friends. The other e-mail address would be used for your web site registrations.

I use two e-mail addresses. My e-mail address at bitscolumn@aol.com has been receiving more spam lately, so I use the spam-blocking feature on my AOL account.

Another idea is to use an “out-of-the-ordinary” e-mail address. Your choice of e-mail addresses may affect the amount of spam you receive. Some spammers use what is called “dictionary attacks” to sort through possible name combinations, hoping to find a valid e-mail address. An e-mail address like “bz726mh8@__.com” would make it harder for this type of attack to succeed.

Use an e-mail filter. Check your e-mail account to see if it provides a tool to filter out possible spam and have it transferred into a bulk e-mail folder. This makes it easier to select all those e-mails and delete them at one time.

Some spammers will provide a link that allows you to be removed from any future e-mails.

Ask your ISP about how they can help you block or re-direct spam e-mails.

Some unsolicited spam e-mails I like to forward to our friends at the FTC,better known as the Federal Trade Commission.

The Federal Trade Commission receives about 300,000 samples of deceptive spam forwarded by computer users each day and stores them in a database.

Give those unsolicited spammers a little payback! Send a copy of unwanted or deceptive e-mail messages to: spam@uce.gov. The FTC uses the unsolicited e-mails stored in this database to carry out law enforcement actions against people who send deceptive spam e-mail.

How can we avoid these “spam scams?” The FTC suggests that you treat “for profit” e-mail solicitations the same way you would treat an unsolicited telemarketing sales call.

Some of the most common scam offers likely to arrive by e-mail include “chain letters” that involve money and the promise of “big returns.” For information on these type of chain e-mails, check out the FTC‘s link at: www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/alerts/chainalrt.shtm.

To file a complaint or learn more, visit: http://www.ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).

The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into what is called the “Consumer Sentinel.” This is a secure online database available to civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the US and abroad. Among the organizations that contribute complaints to the database are the FTC, the Internet Crime Complaint Center, the US Postal Inspection Service, State Attorneys Generals, and the Better Business Bureau. This web site is located at http://www.consumer.gov/sentinel/.