Keeping junk e-mail out of your inbox

Keeping junk e-mail out of your inbox

8th July 2008, Comments 0 comments

Jay Dougherty offers you tips on how to outsmart the spammers who are flooding your inbox and wasting your time.

IF you think you spend too much time dealing with junk e-mail, you're not alone.

Each day, nearly 80 percent of all e-mail sent is spam, according to a recent study by the University of Maryland.

That means that if you get your fair share of that junk e-mail, you're probably at the breaking point, as you sift through the mountains of junk e-mail looking for one or two legitimate messages.

But there are ways to fight back - and they don't include angrily firing off messages to those who sent you the unsolicited mail or wasting yet more time by pursuing other retaliatory methods.

Instead, you can use both technology and know-how to fight back against what is essentially a problem that's not about to get better any time soon. Here's a rundown of what you can do.

Pretend you don't exist
The goal number one of spammers is to get you to read their e-mail. If they think you don't read it - or don't even receive it - they may not sell or pass your e-mail address on to other spammers.

That's why you should never, ever respond to a spam e-mail message. If you lose your cool and fire back an angry message, your e-mail address is confirmed, and you will cement your place on perhaps dozens of other spam senders' lists.

Not only should you not respond to a spam e-mail message; you shouldn't even look at one. That's because many spam messages today contain graphics - sometimes invisible - that signal to the spammer that your e-mail address is valid.

These graphics are commonly known as "beacons". All you have to do is open or even preview a message containing a beacon in order for your e-mail address to be identified as active.

Beacons can only work, however, if your e-mail program is set up to show all embedded graphics. If you turn off the ability of e-mail messages to display embedded graphics, you're safe against the threat of beacons.

The latest versions of Outlook and some other popular e- mail programs come with graphics turned off by default. If your e- mail program displays graphics in messages, you can probably turn them off by looking in the Options menu, usually under Security.

Enlist a spam filter
Any good e-mail program today should come with a basic spam filter built-in. Use it. Outlook 2003 and 2007's spam filter has three different levels of spam protection.

Likewise, Mozilla's Thunderbird has spam catching built-in. The higher levels of protection with these free spam filters are likely to tag some legitimate messages as spam, though, so you'll want to monitor the filtering closely when you first start using it.

You'll also want to check the Web site of the makers of these e- mail programs from time to time to see whether any updates to the spam filters are available.

Spam filtering, like virus checking, is always evolving and improving, and updated filters can greatly improve the ability of your e-mail program to catch spam and leave legitimate e-mail messages alone.

A couple of fee-based filters are worth a look for those who find the free filters insufficient. Cloudmark Desktop, available for both Outlook and Thunderbird, is remarkably effective and has a loyal following. It's available as a free 15-day trial; thereafter the fee is USD 40 per year.

CA Anti-Spam, formerly called Qurb, is another option, although it tends to be too aggressive at times, requiring you occasionally to fish out legitimate messages from among those it has sequestered as spam.

Use Gmail
Search is not the only thing that Google is good at. The Internet giant's free Gmail e-mail service comes with the best spam filtering currently available.

One of the nicest things about Gmail is that you don't have to abandon your favourite e-mail program to use it. Gmail gives you the option of receiving your e-mail either on its Web site or directly from within Outlook, Thunderbird, or another e-mail program. Instructions are available when you sign up.

Guard your e-mail address
Don't make it easy for spammers to find your e-mail address. First off, don't use the same e-mail address for everything. Give out your main e-mail address only to friends, colleagues, and trusted business partners.

Create and use a separate address for everything else.

Next, be careful when posting your e-mail address anywhere online. And when you do, disguise it so that it's not instantly recognisable as an e-mail address to automated e-mail harvesters.

Instead of "," for instance, type "me AT myhost DOT com." The latter is easily understandable by a human but will be passed over by any spammer's e-mail retrieval bot.

text by dpa / Expatica 2008
photo by Fredrik von Erichsen, ANP and flickr contributor CJ Sorg 

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