Email is an amazing technology, but to many it has lost its glamor. Some believe that the war against unsolicited bulk email (aka "spam") is being lost and that junk mail has become an inevitable part of email communication. Although difficult, spam is avoidable. It does, however, require some strong preventative medicine.
The essential trick in avoiding the spam trap is to keep your email address from falling into the hands of spammers (those intentionally sending loads of junk mail) in the first place. Although often easier said than done, with a little perseverance it can be done.
The following is a list of tips that will help keep your email address out of the hands of spammers. Although this list heavily overlaps with the first article in this series, it should help clarify and reinforce the measures.
If creating a new email address, try to pick something unique and try to avoid using common first names. "firstname.lastname@example.org" is far more apt to receive spam than "email@example.com"
This is because spammers will often compile a list of common first names and try them as email addresses. For example, they may try sending email to "firstname.lastname@example.org" or "email@example.com" to see if the accounts are valid. If validated, these addresses are added to a massive list of addresses which will be used to deliver future junk mail.
Don't give your email address out unless absolutely necessary. Every time you give your address out, the chances of your email address being detected by spammers increases dramatically.
Instruct family and friends not to give your email address out without your permission. Also suggest they follow preventative measures to ensure they don't leak your email address to spammers by mistake. Make this point clear, as this is often the most common fault for spam problems.
Do your best to keep your computer clean of viruses, spyware and other pieces of malicious software (commonly dubbed "mal-ware"). Many viruses are designed solely to collect email addresses from their victims and send them to a spammer somewhere else on the Internet.
Never, ever reply to spam! You will simply be validating that your address is valid!
Consider turning off HTML viewing of email messages. Although this will mean emails will look "bland" and won't contain creative formatting (fancy or colored text, graphic backgrounds or inline images), it will mean spammers won't be able to use elements (like photos linked to their remote systems across the Internet) validate your email address.
In Mozilla Thunderbird, click the "View" menu. With your mouse, hover over the the "Message Body As" sub-menu, then select "Simple HTML" or "Plain Text" (the "Simple HTML" view mode is less conservative than the "Plain Text" mode and will allow basic formatting, where the "Plain Text" will not).
In Outlook Express 6, click the "Tools" menu. With your mouse, hover over the "Options" sub-menu and click it. When the options window appears, click on the "Read" tab. Find the "Read all messages in plain text" option and ensure it is not checked. Realize that doing so will suppress any fancy font formatting and graphics that were added to the message by the sender!
Configure your email program to block the display of remote images. If you have disabled HTML viewing (using "Simple HTML" or "Plain Text" view modes in Thunderbird, for example), this won't be necessary.
Disable automatic sending of read receipts. A "read receipt" is an automatic response sent by your computer when you have viewed a message that contains a "read receipt request" by the sender. These are often used to validate your email address.
Try configuring your email program to prompt you each time a read receipt request is found, rather than simply sending them automatically. Please note that this is the default configuration in Mozilla Thunderbird.
Many online message boards and forums require a valid email address during the registration process. Nearly all have an option to make your email address publicly available on the web site. Make sure this option is unchecked or disabled, so that your address isn't publicly available.
Don't post your email address in forums or message boards. Spammers frequently scan web sites for email addresses and will collect any email addresses that they can find.
With some patience, perseverance and a little luck, you may just find yourself free of the spam trap!
Have comments about this article, or suggestions for an additional Tech Tips article? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.