Tuesday, October 2, 2007

SPAM - The Pesky Inbox Problem

Spam, the unsolicited email you receive more often than not. It's usually commercial advertising and frequently for dubious products, get-rich-quick schemes, or illegal services.

Identifying the culprit

The first step in combating the onslaught of spam is to know it when you see it. If you're lucky, you can identify spam based on its subject line. If it's offering you a lower mortgage, a date with Trixie, or free $$$, you know it's spam. But be careful, because spammers often are very clever and make the subject line something you might click on, such as "FWD: great punch line." So, even if the subject line looks harmless, your best bet is to just delete it if you don't recognize the email address of which it came from.

Many spammers also fake the name of the sender with something common such as "Joe." Is this an email from Grandpa? Or maybe it's from your co-worker? You don't know, and the spammer counts on your curiosity. Also be sure to check the date it was sent. Most inboxes are sorted by time, so spammers may send messages to the top of the list by changing the date to several days earlier or later. Worse yet, some spammers will fake an email as being from someone you trust, such as a national bank or a well-known online retailer. It's all pretty sneaky.

Handling the evidence

Once you've identified a message as spam, don't just delete it. Here's what to do (and what not to do) when you have unwanted email on your hands.
  • First, identify spam to your email provider. Companies like America Online (AOL), Microsoft (MSN/Hotmail), and Yahoo! stop a significant amount of spam using email filters, so make sure your filter is on. Once it's activated, it will funnel unwanted messages into a Bulk Mail or Junk Mail folder.
  • Never, ever open an attachment from a suspicious email. It may contain a virus that could wipe out everything on your PC. To compound the damage, it could duplicate the virus and send it to everyone in your email address book, potentially destroying their machines as well.
  • Don't forward unknown email. Sometimes spam will have a fake "To" or "From" field. Since it appears that the email was erroneously sent to you, the spammer hopes you'll read it and hopefully forward it along. Don't.
  • Resist the temptation to unsubscribe. Sometimes clicking a link that promises to unsubscribe you lets the spammer know that your email address is valid, which means you might be spammed even more.

Handy prevention tips

The best way to fight spam is to keep it from arriving in your inbox in the first place. Here are some tips for preventing unwanted email.

  • Don't post your email address online. Spammer software scans newsgroups, web sites, and web forums looking for email addresses. if you post in such places, disguise your email address.
  • Don't give out your email address unless you know how it will be used. Read a site's privacy policy (such as CMIT's Online Privacy Statement) to learn about the company. If they don't have a privacy statement, you probably shouldn't trust them with your address.
  • Never buy anything advertised in spam. Even if you happen to be looking for a lower mortgage rate, don't look for it in junk email. Chances are the services advertised are bogus anyway. Respected loan companies don't randomly flood inboxes.
  • Update your address book. Make sure that the people you want to have contact with are in your address book: your friends, family, business associates, and companies you've requested email from. Most email systems have a filter, so messages may not be delivered into a recipient's inbox unless the sender's email address is included in their address book.

Remember to keep reporting spam to your Internet service provider so they can track key offenders. If we all work together, spam may again become just a canned meat product!

No comments: