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You’ve Got Spam: How to “Can” Unwanted Email

Source: Federal Trade Commission.

As more people use email, marketers are increasingly using email messages to pitch their products and services. Some consumers find unsolicited commercial email—also known as “spam”—annoying and time consuming; others have lost money to bogus offers that arrived in their email inbox.

Typically, an email spammer buys a list of email addresses from a list broker, who compiles it by “harvesting” addresses from the Internet. If your email address appears in a newsgroup posting, on a website, in a chat room, or in an online service's membership directory, it may find its way onto these lists. The marketer then uses special software that can send hundreds of thousands—even millions—of email messages to the addresses at the click of a mouse.

The FTC suggests that you treat commercial email solicitations the same way you would treat an unsolicited telemarketing sales call. Don't believe promises from strangers. Greet money-making opportunities that arrive at your inbox with skepticism. Most of the time, these are old-fashioned scams delivered via the newest technology.

Tips to Reduce Spam

Try not to display your email address in public. That includes newsgroup postings, chat rooms, websites, or in an online service's membership directory. You may want to opt out of member directories for your online services; spammers may use them to harvest addresses.

Check the privacy policy when you submit your address to a website. See if it allows the company to sell your address. You may want to opt out of this provision, if possible, or not submit your address at all to websites that won't protect it.

Read and understand the entire form before you transmit personal information through a website. Some websites allow you to opt out of receiving email from their “partners”—but you may have to uncheck a preselected box if you want to opt out.

Decide if you want to use two email addresses—one for personal messages and one for newsgroups and chat rooms. You also might consider using a disposable email address service that creates a separate email address that forwards to your permanent account. If one of the disposable addresses begins to receive spam, you can shut it off without affecting your permanent address.

Use a unique email address. Your choice of email addresses may affect the amount of spam you receive. Spammers use “dictionary attacks” to sort through possible name combinations at large ISPs or email services, hoping to find a valid address. Thus, a common name such as jdoe may get more spam than a more unique name like jd51x02oe. Of course, there is a downside—it's harder to remember an unusual email address.

Use an email filter. Check your email account to see if it provides a tool to filter out potential spam or a way to channel spam into a bulk email folder. You might want to consider these options when you're choosing which Internet Service Provider (ISP) to use.

What Can I Do With the Spam?

Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Send a copy of unwanted or deceptive messages to uce@ftc.gov. The FTC uses the unsolicited emails stored in this database to pursue law enforcement actions against people who send deceptive spam email.

Let the FTC know if a “remove me” request is not honored. If you want to complain about a removal link that doesn't work or not being able to unsubcribe from a list, you can fill out the FTC's online complaint form at www.ftc.gov. Your complaint will be added to the FTC's Consumer Sentinel database and made available to hundreds of law enforcement and consumer protection agencies. You can also call the FTC toll–free: 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261.

Whenever you complain about spam, it's important to include the full email header. The information in the header makes it possible for consumer protection agencies to follow up on your complaint.

Send a copy of the spam to your ISP's abuse desk. 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. Make sure to include a copy of the spam, along with the full email header. At the top of the message, state that you're complaining about being spammed.

Complain to the sender's ISP. Most ISPs want to cut off spammers who abuse their system. Again, make sure to include a copy of the message and header information and state that you're complaining about spam.


Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

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