Spam Dropping? Don't believe it!
There have been one or two reports that the amount of Spam hitting mailboxes has dropped recently. Don't believe a word of it!
Spam, spam, spam. Monty Python has a lot to answer for, but, thankfully, not in an electronic sense. Yes, they gave Spam a worldwide recognition, but not the way anyone who is online would prefer it. For those of you not in the know, Spam is unsolicited commercial email - junk email, to shorten it down a little.
It's bane of my existence with some email addresses, and I know that many other people find their mailboxes flooded with the unsavoury stuff.
Why do we get it? Let me quote to you from a piece of Spam that dropped into my mailbox this week, purporting to be a press release:
=> If you send a Broadcast Email Advertisement to 50,000,000
=> People and Just 1 of 5,000 People Respond, You Can Generate
=> 10,000 EXTRA ORDERS! How Much EXTRA PROFIT is this for You?
Look at those figures again! Fifty Million mailboxes all bombed with the exact same 'advertisement'. And, indeed, they're right. A response rate of one in five thousand is, in truth, terrible. Most advertises in normal advertising contexts would never, ever contemplate working with such poor response rates. But when a spammer is reaching fifty million mailboxes with his message, one or two people in every five or ten thousand will perhaps respond.
Cost-wise, the spammer spends no more money sending to 50,000,000 than he would to 50,000. In comparative terms, it must look very tempting to the company that knows that minuscule hit rates can prove profitable on sheer numbers contacted.
So what are they likely to advertise? Well, legitimate businesses tend not to go in for Spam - they know that it has a very poor reputation. So, the spammers tend to be somewhat shady in character, often dealing in products and services of a somewhat dubious nature - I frequently get sent offers to sell me Viagra, or, more perturbingly, have my breasts enhanced (which is not something most blokes fancy having done, frankly).
Then there are the very dodgy get-rich-quick-on-the-Internet schemes, which are, basically, invitations to join a Spammer's ring and generate even more Spam.
None of these sound in least attractive to me - or to most folks, I'd imagine.
One question I'm constantly asked is how Spammers get email addresses. Here's another quote from that 'press release':
We are so confident about our Broadcast Email Package, that we are giving you 30 DAYS to USE OUR ENTIRE PACKAGE FOR FREE!
==> You can SEND Unlimited Broadcast Email Advertisements!
==> You can EXTRACT Unlimited Targeted Email Addresses!
==> You can RECEIVE Unlimited Orders!
Ignoring the obvious hype, look at that middle line in the 'benefits'. You can extract unlimited addresses. Where from? From the Web, that's where. Spammers have these little spiders that trawl web sites and chat rooms and Usenet and Newsgroups looking for email addresses, anything with 'firstname.lastname@example.org' in it. That address gets extracted and added to the database of mailboxes to Spam. So if, on your own website, you have your email address, whether it's prefixed with a mailto: or not, the Spammers will get it, eventually. If you've ever posted to a Newsgroup, they'll get you, unless you've mangled or mis-reported your email address. Sadly, even if you've never left the AOL domain, they'll very probably be able to harvest your screen name and add the @aol.com themselves.
Deal with it
Given that the Spammeisters are now advertising their wares pseudo-legitimately to businesses, I think we can expect the more recent converts to the Internet to have within their ranks one or two that think 'Broadcast Email Advertising' is a Good Idea. So, there'll be more Spam. The question is, how to deal with it, and how to minimise it.
Here are some tips.
Keep a 'private' mailbox.
As an AOLer, you've got seven screen names - that's seven mailboxes. Use them. Keep one that never, ever goes into chatrooms, posts to message boards, or does anything other than get used for emails to people from whom you want to receive mail. Never use it on websites when you sign up for anything - never, ever give it out publicly. Use it only on a one to one basis. Keep it almost a secret.
Keep a 'Spamtrap' mailbox
Accept that they're going to get you! Create a screen name/mailbox specifically to capture the Spam, and use that one whenever you have to give your email address on a website for whatever reason (it's usually so they can Spam you, frankly). That way, you can visit that mailbox once a week and delete everything unread. Use that screen name in chatrooms and for posts to message boards - anywhere that's going to be public or a likely harvesting ground for Spammers.
Change Screen Names
Once you've got your Spamtrap name set up, delete it regularly, and create another one. And never re-use it anywhere!
Never, ever reply
Most Spam you get will have an 'unsubscribe' line in it somewhere, prompting you to click a link or send an email to confirm that you don't want to receive any more junk from that list. Don't use it! All your reply will do is to confirm that there's a live mailbox at that address - you're giving the Spammers exactly what they want!
Never use your screen name or email address on your website
Click here to discover how to disguise it
If you follow those five tips, you'll remain fairly Spam-free in your main mailbox. Keep an eye on Practical PC, though, as we'll re-visit this subject with more tips and kinks, and some new ways to really get the Spammers guessing...