SPAM is known as the scourge of the Internet. If you are reading this article then you know of SPAM and probably receive various amounts daily. Dealing with SPAM is a frustrating endeavour for everyone, except maybe the Spammers themselves, however understanding SPAM can help limit this frustration.
What is SPAM?
SPAM is the electronic equivalent of a flyer under your windscreen wiper or catalogues stuffed into your mailbox. Due to the cost of spamming being nearly nothing and the limited responses needed to make the effort worthwhile, i.e. if 1 hit out of 5000 spam mails sent is clicked or answered the spammers consider it a win. It is by far the most lucrative way for dodgy people to advertise.
Technically SPAM can be defined as any e-mail sent to multiple recipients who did not request to receive it. Most of them are simply “junk mail” containing cons, scams and advertising, but can also contain viruses and other malicious software payloads.
For most users the definition of SPAM can be simplified to all unsolicited/unwanted emails.
According to Business Week magazine:
“In a single day in May , No. 1 Internet service provider AOL Time Warner (AOL ) blocked 2 billion spam messages — 88 per subscriber — from hitting its customers’ e-mail accounts. Microsoft (MSFT), which operates No. 2 Internet service provider MSN plus e-mail service Hotmail, says it blocks an average of 2.4 billion spams per day. According to research firm Radicati Group in Palo Alto, Calif., spam is expected to account for 45% of the 10.9 trillion messages sent around the world in 2003.”
Today those totals are exponentially higher as Internet services providers report between 45% and 73% of messages received being SPAM.
How is SPAM fought?
The battle against SPAM is a never ending one. SPAM detection software is constantly being upgraded to try identify SPAM more accurately while the spammers themselves are constantly trying to figure out news ways of beating the software. This can lead to visible inconsistencies when monitoring the amount of SPAM that reaches your inbox.
Unfortunately, for the victims of SPAM this means no one solution or setup can solve SPAM on a permanent basis. This is especially true for businesses where suppliers and customers often do not follow best practises and SPAM detection solutions need to use exceptionally advanced heuristics to keep a “clean’ inbox.
Why do legitimate messages sometimes get blocked as SPAM?
SPAM filters checking incoming emails hold the emails up to a set of criteria. Each aspect that a mail matches will give it points. Once the number of points reach the pre-set threshold the mail message is blocked as SPAM.
Legitimate emails often are not written with anti-SPAM measures in mind. For example, something that sounds like a sales pitch or contains messages such as “click here!” or talks about how you can get rich quick, may be worth 1-2 points. Excessive use of CAPS or commas could also warrant 2 points.
Your threshold is determined by whoever developed your SPAM filter or whatever you set it at.
If you have a high tolerance for the stuff, you might ease up on the restrictions. Alternatively, if you’re absolutely sick of junk mail, you’ll set your threshold to be as strict as possible.
So what can you do?
Here are a few tips to help get your legitimate email through:
- Avoid italics and large fonts.
- Use CAPS sparingly, if at all.
- Avoid phrases like “click here” or promising riches and wealth to recipients. If you’re not sure which word will trigger this response, think of it this way:
If it makes you sound like a salesman, you should probably not use it.
- Avoid sloppy HTML coding.
- Don’t send a message that’s one large image with little, or no, text. Though most SPAM filters can’t read images, you can still be labelled as someone just trying to find a loophole.
- Be sure to spell check. Not only will this save you some embarrassment, but misspelling can make the filters think your message is spam.
- Keep it within a reasonable length, as too much copy can also be a red flag that will send you straight to the junk folder.
What can I, the user, do?
Despite the fact that SPAM prevention is a never ending battle here are steps, as advised by CharacterLink, that you can take to limit the amounts of SPAM sent to you.
1. Protect Your E-Mail Address
Many spammers use spambots or computer programs to harvest e-mail addresses from the Internet. If you have a personal website, be sure to use some method of encryption on any e-mail addresses you display on it. When posting at a public website or a newsgroup, mask your e-mail address by changing the domain (i.e. [email protected]*REMOVEME*rsaweb.co.za) or by spelling it out (i.e. example AT rsaweb DOT co DOT za).
Some spammers guess at e-mail addresses by sending spam to every possible combination of letters at a domain or to common names and words. Because of this, you may want to choose a unique e-mail address that would be more difficult to guess.
Certain companies may violate your privacy by sending e-mails you didn’t request or by selling your e-mail address to spammers once you provide it. Before giving out personal information, it is important to find out how those requesting your e-mail address will use it. If you aren’t required to provide your address, don’t.
2. Use Multiple E-Mail Addresses
Set up an alternate address for sign-ups, posting on unfamiliar websites, or any other time you need to provide contact information to a party you don’t completely trust. Consider using a service that creates disposable e-mail addresses, which forward to your permanent account but can be shut down if they begin receiving spam.
3. Use E-Mail Filtering
Many e-mail clients (including several free web-based e-mail providers) are able to filter the e-mail you receive, dramatically reducing the amount of SPAM that shows up in your inbox.
- In Outlook Express, go to the Tools menu, select Message Rules, and choose Mail (see the article Controlling Junk Mail in Outlook Express on Microsoft’s website).
- In Mozilla, open the Tools menu and select Junk Mail Controls (see the article Using Junk Mail Controls on Mozilla’s website).
4. Avoid Responding to SPAM
- Do not reply to spam.
Ignore any instructions to reply with the word “unsubscribe” or “remove” in the subject line, and don’t click on “unsubscribe” links or other web addresses in spam e-mails unless you trust the source. Unless the message is lawful commercial e-mail, responding to it will often do nothing but alert the sender that your e-mail address is active, making it more valuable to spammers and more likely to receive additional spam.
- Do not call.
Generally, any phone numbers provided will not help you to remove your e-mail address from the spammer’s list.
- Do not abuse the spammer in any way.
Spamming in return, or any other form of retaliation will not resolve the problem, and may harm an innocent third party.
Where can I get more information?