Spam—defined as unsolicited commercial e-mail—isn’t simply an annoyance. It can deliver fraudulent scams, abrasive porn, and viruses. “It also shifts advertising costs from business to the receiver,” says Neil Schwartzman, Chair of CAUCE Canada, the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email. “No matter whom the recipient is—a business, individual, educational facility, or hospital institution—accepting the spam requires the costs associated with bigger servers and faster connections. The alternative is spam filtering software, which also costs money,” he says.
According to a report from independent research company Nucleus Research, unsolicited e-mail consumes 2,080 hours in an annual work year. Enough time to solidify a promotion, you say? Then perhaps it’s time to take action.
Don’t open or respond to spam
Opening spam leaves you vulnerable to embedded viruses such as worms that have the potential to infect the associates in your address book. Responding to spam is like inviting a cult recruiter into your living room. Even if a spammer promises to remove you from their list, replying sends a message that their carrier pigeon reached its target.
Don’t purchase goods from unsolicited mail
Worse than encouraging more spam, purchasing goods from unsolicited mail, can leaves you susceptible to scams. Even if spam looks like it’s from a reputable institution, it could be a “phishing” ploy to draw personal or financial information. Keep in mind, reputable financial or credit institutions will never send an e-mail requesting private information. Scam artists steal the graphics from legitimate sites, and use similar tools and names to fool unsuspecting users. When in doubt, call the company in questions and confirm whether or not they are the sender. For updates and information on the latest scams, visit the Anti-Phishing Working Group.
Don’t post your address on your Web site
Spammers use a variety of methods to build their address lists. One frequently-used tool is ‘robot’ software that combs the Web in search of the @ symbol and names. If your e-mail address sits up on a Web site long enough, you are bound to get hit. If you must provide contact information, dodge the robots with a disposable e-mail address or if you run your own server, a reply form such as CGIEmail.
Don’t give out your e-mail address
Do use as alternate e-mail address
Activating an alias e-mail account is a good way to separate the good mail from the bad. “Set yourself up with a couple of e-mail addresses,” says Schwartzman. “One for friends and family, and the other contests, newsgroups, and surveys.”
Do use a spam filter
Many e-mail services provide spam filters, but for those that don’t, help is still available. Filter software can be purchased and added to most any e-mail service. Many allow you to tailor your filter to recognize friends and divert strangers. Cost: free to $40.
Do use a disposable e-mail address service
An alternative or compliment to your e-mail filter is a disposable address service. Companies like Spamex or Sneakemail provide customers with multiple e-mail addresses that route to a single source, allowing you to trace the cause of your unsolicited mail (such as your new newsgroup). As well, it allows you to shut-down addresses and build new ones, rather than contacting individual spammers requesting to be removed from their mailing list.
Do use anti-virus software
Three years ago, my colleague made the mistake of opening an “I LOVE YOU” message on his new Toshiba laptop. It fried his computer. The kind of love that hurts. Anyone who has brushed computer-death knows viruses can’t be taken lightly. “Recent instances of network attacks made it clear that certain spammers are affiliated with hackers creating the viruses. It’s simply not safe to surf without firewalls, anti-virus and anti-spam. As well, it is critical that all of your software is updated daily. Operating Systems, e-mail programs, anti-spam, firewall, and anti-virus, the lot.” Two of the most trusted: Symantec and McAfee, ranging $30-$80 USD. Both are set to continuously check for updates automatically.
Do read the fine print
Be sure to read all privacy agreement information when signing-up for e-mail lists, discussion groups, or anything else online. If they are reputable, they will not sell, distribute, barter or transfer any of your personally identifiable information to a third party without giving you the opportunity to opt-out. Chatelaine.com’s newsletters are a perfect example of this!
Nip spam in the bud
If you regard spam as a violation—of your privacy and time, you may be motivated to fight back. Here’s what you can do:
· Sometimes tattle-tails win
Snitching on a spammer won’t always eliminate the problem, but in many cases, an Internet Service Provider (ISP) will end relations with a client if they discover their bandwidth is being used to spam. But it’s not as simple as hitting ‘reply.’ First you must track the sender. In most cases a mass-spammer will shield themselves with a phony header and account. If you are feeling geeky, you can crack the headers in ELM or PINE. Find complete instructions at the Stop Spam FAQ. For those seeking a simpler approach, there are services like SpamCop that enable you to report spammers and pass-off the dirty work.
· Contact your MP
“Industry Canada has been studying the problem for four years,” says Schwartzman. So has the U.N. Some Canadian Members of Parliament have presented private member bills, suggesting a protection protocol is needed. So far, nothing has been passed. If you think Canada needs to implement spamming laws, let your voice be heard—contact your government representative.