Spammers and their dreadful ways

Question: When I receive unsolicited e-mail and I try to unsubscribe or remove myself from their list, I run into blank walls. Some say to click on their e-mail address to unsubscribe, but they don’t provide an address. Some say “For more information, click on the address below”, but no address is listed in their e-mail. If they do give an e-mail address and I reply to “unsubscribe”, my request comes back as “undeliverable”. Can you help? –R.P.

Answer: E-mail marketing people are a wily bunch. They get people’s e-mail addresses from a variety of places. Some techniques are quite surprising.

For example, some use pieces of software to scan public address books on sites like Hotmail.com and Yahoo.com. They can also use that software to look for e-mail addresses embedded in web sites so, if you have a personal home page, any e-mail address you post is almost guaranteed to be found by spammers.

Then there are programs that come up with random words and common names and pop them together. So if you’re an AOL user, for example, they will combine words like “top” and “dog” and perhaps a series of numbers and come up with topdog1876@aol.com or smartgal2590@hotmail.com. With so many people using these services, common names like “Bob Smith” are long gone, and spammers know people make up e-mail addresses from common words. They simply put those random words and numbers together as part of an e-mail address and send it out.

If you are bsmith@xyz.com, the spam programs might very easily find you because they will test bsmith, bobsmith, smithb, smith_b, and all kinds of other combinations.

Then, they fire unwelcome marketing e-mails (also called “spam”) to all these potential addresses. If the spam they sent out doesn’t come bouncing back to them because of a non-existent address, they log it as valid and put it on their active list. Some sell these lists, others use them to market their own products and services.

When you post your e-mail address to a website or newsgroup, for example to receive a newsletter, you also expose yourself to spammers. Some companies sell these lists of verified e-mail addresses. Before making this information available, you might want to look for a privacy statement on a website to see what they are going to do with any personal information you give them.

The spam you receive may very well contain have “unsubscribe” information, but more often than not it’s a ploy for spammers to appear to be legitimate and responsible. If spammers gave everyone on their distribution list the legitimate option to unsubscribe, they’d be out of business very quickly. While unsubscribing may be tempting, replying to spammers, even to unsubscribe, gives them even more proof that your e-mail address is valid and that someone is reading the mail there.

So…what to do?

Well, you’re not going to be able to completely erase spam from your life – no fool-proof method has yet been invented – but there are precautions you can take.

First, never ever respond to unsolicited e-mails. If these people make money by polluting the internet with unwanted
e-mails, responding to and buying from spam perpetrators just supports
and validates their reason for existence.

Second, never ever buy anything from offers in spam e-mails.

You may also want to get yourself an e-mail program that has mechanisms to filter out unwanted e-mail.
Two commercial anti-spam programs you could try are CA Anti-Spam 2007 and another that is simply titled SpamKiller. Both of them are available through our TechnologyTips Software Library.

If you’re a Hotmail user, have a look at Microsoft’s new anti-spam measures. They recently launched an improved junk mail filter on Windows Live Hotmail. See Windows Live Hotmail for more information.