How to fight back against spam – and avoid creating it for others

If you are tired of getting spam (unsolicited commercial email) advertising for get rich quick schemes, good heath, porn and junk like that you are not alone. There are lots of people who feel the same way and there are lots of resources available to help you fight it and report it.

  • Do not supply email addresses of friends when entering contests!
  • Do not send Electronic Greetings!

For a wealth of information on combating spam go to the “Anti-spam” page in the “Useful Links” section of this website. You will find links to many websites operated by experts in the campaign against spam. I urge you spend some time visiting the sites and familiarize yourself with the issues. You can learn what you can do and what not to do in dealing with spam. You discover you have been your own worst enemy, inviting more spam with actions taken so far. Spam often contains instructions encouraging you to send a message to certain email address or log in to a certain website to be removed from their mailing list. In most cases you should ignore the instructions. That is how the spammers trick you to letting them know they have reached a valid email address – yours.

Do not supply email addresses of friends when entering contests!
We once got an email from a company running a contest. An acquaintance had entered the contest and meaning well also supplied our name and email address so we could also enter and thereby increase the odds of the person winning the prize (a computer). You may have had the same experience. We thanked the person for thinking of us but also explained why we don’t enter such contests. You may not be aware of the ramifications of such actions so we provide the following.

The main purpose of such contests are to get your contact information for targeted marketing. For example we looked at the website of the company running the contest and looked at their privacy policy. The following is excerpted from their policy:

“By agreeing to this privacy policy during the registration process, you are allowing us to share the information that you provide to us with our marketing partners (including [companyname]) so that they can send you information about products and services which may be of interest to you. These partners may include direct marketing service providers for lookup and reference applications. Though we are selective with whom we partner, we do not control the practices of these marketing partners.”

Note the last line about the partners! We are confident that this policy resembles the policy of many other such contest organizers. Several years ago, when we first went online and due to earlier ignorance of such marketing practices, innocently entered online contests. When posting messages on newsgroups devoted to computer-related topics we provided our valid email address. Then the spam started coming in, slowly at first. At its peak we were receiving a lot (several a day) of spam for all kinds of stuff, some annoying and some very disgusting (get rich quick, viagra, loose weight, porn of all kinds including bestiality and incest). So we have taken great efforts to be removed from such marketing lists. Spam wastes so much time, especially when we have to go through the lengthy process of identifying the spammers and if successful at that then reporting them to the properties authorities in hopes of getting the spammer’s accounts terminated. We have frequently been successful but it takes a lot of time and effort which could be better spent doing more pleasant things. Thankfully we get far fewer spams now.

So we recommend that you don’t enter such contests yourselves and don’t enter the names and email addresses of your friends in the contest. If you are still inclined to enter the contest do carefully read their privacy policy but remember the following:

  1. the policy can change at any time,
  2. the partners who will get access to the lists may be less scrupulous.
  3. the company may be bought by another company who doesn’t have the same policy (this happens often),
  4. the website might be hacked into and their lists stolen.

There are a lot of businesses making a lot of money and their primary activity is getting your contact information, adding it to lists and selling the lists to marketers. Business operators get tricked into being listed in directories of businesses (the pitch is worded to make it sound like an honour and distinction to be listed). Once in the list the flood starts – direct admail through the post, phone calls, faxes, and spam email. Once you are in the list it takes a lot of effort and often long distance phone calls at your expense to be removed from the list. We know! We recently read several articles in computer trade publications that report that spam has increased dramatically in the past few months and is going to increase even more. So please do be careful about entering contests online and more importantly…. please don’t enter us or anyone else! We won’t thank you for it.

Do Not Send Electronic Greetings!
While on the topic of spam and online privacy do keep in mind that you might want to avoid using electronic greeting services. Likely you are familiar with them and may have received messages from them. They are the ones where you log in with your email address to a website, select a greeting card style, format it with the message of your choosing, perhaps add an animation or music, type the greeting message and then supply the service with the email address of the intended recipient. When you do that you have supplied that service with someone’s email address – without their consent and may be contributing to them getting spam. I’ve read the privacy statements of some of those services (you should ALWAYS read their privacy statements, even if you have to hunt for them). One such service stated that they do not send spam to either the sender or the recipient of the greetings. That may be true but I prefer to be overly cautious – and they might change their policy tomorrow.

Now that most of us know not enough to open unsolicited e-mail attachments, malicious coders are looking for other ways to infect large numbers of people quickly. Here is a good example. A marketing technique used by Panama-based Permissioned Media Inc. could provide virus writers with some inspiration. This company has a crafty scheme: You receive an e-mail that looks like an electronic greeting card from [fortunately they appear to have disappeared]. The e-mail asks you to download a plug-in in order to view the card. It then presents you with a legitimate End User License Agreement (EULA), which you must accept in order to get the software. BUT, IF YOU READ the fine print, that agreement asks for permission to raid your Outlook Contact list. If you accept the agreement, Permissioned Media sends a copy of the e-mail to all your contacts–not unlike mass-mailing e-mail viruses.

I therefore refuse to use such services and also ask that you do NOT use them to send anything to anyone without getting their permission first. I think I speak for most people when I say that instead of receiving an electronic greeting from a service it is far more preferable to receive a personal message that someone has prepared themselves, even if the message is only text or not as fancy as some of us can produce. We have different skill levels, ranging from novice to expert, and may have software that makes such formatting chores easier for some of us. At least when we send a message we prepared ourselves we avoid supply someone’s email address to a third party that might start sending spam. It is the thought and effort, not the fancy formatting of the message, that counts.