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How can I stop receiving junk (spam) Emails?

By Tom Cumming

 

- If a spam message has a line that says something like "to be removed from our mailing list send a message to <email address> [or/and] goto <website>", *DO NOT* follow these instructions. Whilst it may remove you from that particular list, it will confirm that your address is valid so that you can be put on other lists, so will more often than not cause you to receive more junk.

- You can complain to the spammer's ISP. This will sometimes but not always help, as some ISPs are more strict about spam than others, and sometimes the spammer will like to hide who his ISP actually is! However, if you find the spammer is with an ISP that does not approve of spamming, you may be able to get his/her account closed.

To find out where the message came from, right-click the message in Outlook Express, and click Properties, and then Message source. (Other email software will have similar options to view the "headers" or "source" of the message.) At the top of this window you should see the address that the message has come from (provided the spammer has not faked this as well) and with a bit of luck you should be able to recognise the domain (the bit after the @ sign) as an ISP name (eg Tiscali) that you can go to the website of, find an email address and complain to. Or if you are really lucky you may also find in this window a line called "complaints-to", that gives the email address to send complaints to about this sender.

However, the problem is that many spammers "fake" the headers of the message so that the "from" address is in fact incorrect. If you register with the site HERE this site offers you the facility to trace messages back to their true source by looking at the IP numbers, and then automatically generate a complaint email to the correct company.

- If you are getting regular spammings from a particular address, you can filter out that address using Outlook Express. Goto Tools/Message
Rules/Blocked Senders List, click add, type in the email address, and then click OK and OK again. Then if a message comes in from this address it is automatically deleted. Again, other email software will have similar features.

- Use a "disposable" email address. A lot of people, to avoid spam, have two email addresses, one for everyone and one just for important people that they keep semi-secret. Then, when you have to fill in your email address on a website for a registration (knowing this means you will probably get sent loads of rubbish) then you can put in your less important email address. A web-based account such as a hotmail account is useful for this kind of thing, as it costs you nothing, and if you do not use the account for a few months it gets automatically shut down, so if you get on lots of mailing lists, simply wait for the account to shut down and start up a new one with a slightly different address! Then the spammers no longer have your address, and all your important contacts were not using that address anyway.

There is a utility available called SpamMotel HERE which allows you to start up "temporary" email addresses and forward them to your normal address. This means that when you have to give your email address to someone you do not really trust, you can give a "temporary" one, then once you have received the expected message, you can close the account before you start getting spam through it.

- Disguise your email address when using usenet newsgroups and other discussion forums. The reason for this is that some spam mailing lists are generated by software that scan discussion groups for email addresses and put all the ones it finds in a big list. So, instead of just typing your email address at the bottom of each message you post, exactly as it is used, disguise it a bit. Instead of "I-hate@spam.net" , how about "I-hate@spam.and.cabbage.net " or something similar, and then underneath, put something like 'remove the "and.cabbage" bit to reply to this message'. Make sure you state in your signature which bit to delete or change, so that people who genuinely want to send you email still can. Then the spammers will have an incorrect address. However you must be careful you do not fake your address to an address that does exist and someone else has. Think of something that no-one would ever use! It is usually safer to change the bit after the @ sign than before it. Try to be original about it as well - don't just put "nospam" in, as spammers have grown wise to that trick.

- Once you've come up with a disguised email address, you can also put it in the "from" and "reply-to" field for your usenet account, so that your address cannot be picked up from message headers. In Outlook Express, goto tools/accounts/news. Double click on your news account, and then in the "email address" and "reply address" boxes, insert your mock address. N.B. Some news servers do not allow this practise, so do check your news server's terms and conditions before doing this, and if after doing this you get error messages appearing in Outlook Express, put it back as it was. As a compromise, what some people do is put a fake email address in for the "from" field, but still use a genuine one for the "reply-to" field, as some harvesting software looks at the "from" field only, but most email software will still be able to send reply to the genuine "reply-to" address.

- If you wish to take this a stage further, you can use a completely fake address: me@privacy.net . This address has been set up deliberately for spam avoidance - whenever a message is sent to it, it is deleted immediately and a reply is sent stating the contents were not wanted. Try sending an email to the address yourself if wish to see it in action.

- Use spam filtering software. There is various software available that allows you to filter out junk emails by recognising senders' names, subject lines and phrases in emails. One of my favourites is Mailwasher Pro HERE This one also allows you to bounce-back messages to the sender with a fake "message undelivered" message, so that they think that your address is invalid. I am not altogether convinced of the value of the latter feature, because first of all, most spammers fake the "from" address, and secondly, the time delay in the "message undelivered" may give the game away, but the the filtering itself is first class. Spampal HERE is another good one, which refers to online databases of known spammers, rather than just using locally-held lists.

- Alternatively, most email software has some kind of general-purpose filtering system of its own, not specifically for sorting through spam. With some ingenuity it is possible to filter a good proportion of spam to a seperate folder. For example (courtesy of "aa" on alt.pcnews), any genuine replies to Usenet posts will almost certainly have "Re: " at the start of the subject line. So, if you have an email address that is only used to post to Usenet to, you could filter off all emails that do not have "Re: " in the subject line. This is one starting point - you would have to keep watching spam as it comes in to spot patterns and decide what the best filters are for your own use. Setting up filters is quite complicated and differs from one mail client to another, so have a look in your software's instructions or help facilities for information. (In Outlook Express, look up "rules" in the help index.)


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