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The Best Way to Stop Spam and Unwanted Email

by on October 21, 2011
in Computers and Software, Internet & Networking, Tips & How-Tos, Tech 101 :: 12 comments

In July, my family celebrated the Serbian Orthodox holiday Slava. As we prepared for dinner, the priest came to our house and blessed the food and our home. The preparation for his arrival typically includes a candle, red wine, a list of residents in the house and the traditional bread that my mother-in-law makes and decorates. This year, as I handed him all the "tools," he asked for one more thing" my email address.

Wait? What? Why? Feeling put on the spot and not entirely sure I could really say "no," I obliged. So what happens now? It seems that there is a lot the church wants to share, so now, I get email daily, sometimes multiple times in one day. Since I have made a career working in the email marketing space, I understand the desire to reach his parish via email, but c'mon!

Think about your email inbox for a moment (I know, it isn't always the most fun thing to do) and what do you find in there? It's probably a combination of offers from companies you do business with, companies you are clueless about how they got your email address, companies that you gave your email address to but are sending you too much stuff (or stuff you just don't want) and the occasional email from aunt Jackie (or in my case, my priest). Experts estimate that consumers get approximately 17 emails each day - but what do you do when you don't want to get that email anymore?

Well, once upon a time, it was a common practice of spammers to include an unsubscribe link in the junk email they sent - and when you clicked that link to be removed, it actually validated your email address...so they kept sending, more and more and more. With the introduction of CAN-SPAM laws that restrict the use and collection of email addresses, the act of clicking an unsubscribe link has been legitimized - providing marketers with a 10-day window with which to suppress you from receiving additional messages from the sender. But with the introduction of the "This is SPAM" button in many email systems (Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail, AOL and others), consumers have rampantly turned to this as a way to unsubscribe...but consumer beware..."This is SPAM" does not equal UNSUBSCRIBE.

The report as SPAM function works a little differently for each inbox provider. For most, the act of clicking "This is SPAM" tells the inbox provider two things: 1) that the sender is not relevant to you, and 2) that the marketer's messaging may not be relevant to any of their email users. As a result, the email you are trying to stop ends up in your bulk folder. For the marketer, it limits their ability to get their email to any of the subscribers at that provider.

In some cases, but not all, the inbox provider has a system called a feedback loop process that sends a notification back to the marketer that you have complained and will suggest that you be removed from their mailing list. However, because you did not expressly unsubscribe, there are no legal requirements to do so. That means you'll still download the messages and have to weed through them when looking for legitimate email in your junk folder.

The only way to ensure that you do not receive email from a marketer is to click the unsubscribe link or button in the email. If there is no official link in the message, then "This is SPAM" is the way to go...unless it's your priest. I'm a little worried that clicking "This is SPAM" would be equivalent to "Go to Hell," and I don't think I want to find out.

Kara Trivunovic is the Global Director of Strategy at StrongMail Agency Services.

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Discussion loading

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There's no excuse for spam!

From Rev Serafim Gascoigne on October 21, 2011 :: 12:34 pm

As a priest (Serbian Archdiocese of North America), I agree that we should not take advantage of our parishioners by sending unsolicited emails. I communicate via Facebook. We have a parish group page “Pokrov Parish” and I personally use Vertical Response (with an unsubscribe feature) to send out info about my books and other publications. And I don’t share emails. Period.

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The Nature of the Beast

From Kara Trivunovic on October 21, 2011 :: 1:16 pm

I agree there is no excuse for SPAM Rev Serafim - but I also think for small businesses, and churches alike, it is also difficult to know what you don’t know. I applaud my priest for taking the initiative to collect email addresses from the parish - it is certainly a more eco-friendly form of communication then the massive print newsletters that come via snail mail - and as the congregation gets younger it is a way to connect at all times - I do believe however, that expectations for use of the email address would have been appreciated. Baby steps right?

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sweeping mail

From Catherine Moya on October 21, 2011 :: 1:48 pm

I just switched my mail client to Hotmail because I love using the new “sweep” feature. Full disclosure - I work for Microsoft, but not in any group at all connected with Hotmail. I just really like it.

I used to get all my mail using Windows Live Mail to access my pop3 account, with the added downside of having to remember if I read that email on my work computer or home computer.

A few weeks ago I hooked my pop3 account into Hotmail, so all my mail is in one place (including my Win7 phone), and I can sweep to move all of the “gray” mail into a set of folders like “shopping” and “newsletters” to read later.

I don’t unsubscribe to most mail, partially because of the spam fear, but also because sometimes I don’t want to deal with their system, especially the ones that want to know WHY I am unsubscribing. It’s fewer clicks and less hassle to use the sweep feature to just delete anything from that sender that is currently cluttering my inbox and delete all future messages from that sender.

I used to peridocally dump everything into a folder called Archive so I didn’t have 2,632 unread emails that I had triaged or read somewhere else. I hadn’t realized how depressing it was to have that pile of glanced-at email until I reached the point of having a “swept” inbox.

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One way to deal with Spam

From Jerry on November 03, 2011 :: 12:56 pm

I keep several e-mail accounts for various purposes including an e-mail account for companies & organizations that demand an e-mail address.  This e-mail address begins with the word, “spamtrap” followed by a series of numbers.  It’s a legitimate account but for some reason receives little unsolicited e-mail.  It seems simplistic but it does work.

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It's not surprising that those

From Josh Kirschner on November 03, 2011 :: 2:03 pm

It’s not surprising that those email accounts don’t receive much spam. True spammers collect emails from scraping sites or guessing at common emails addresses. If your “spamtrap” email isn’t posted online and contains a random series of numbers, it’s unlikely to get picked up.

It’s also important to note that real companies generally don’t require an email address unless they need it for contacting you about your order or account. If you do receive marketing emails from legitimate companies, they will always give you the option to unsubscribe to stay in compliance with CAN-SPAM.

And, as Kara points out, if you mark emails from legitimate companies as spam (i.e., click the “Spam” button in your email app), it makes it harder for companies to deliver messages (including info about orders and accounts) to other customers because the ISPs may start to treat all of their messages as spam.

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Spam filters can work...

From thenudehamster on November 04, 2011 :: 10:22 am

If you’re worried about spam, there are many well-known ways of reducing it, including honeypots, but the most effective one I’ve found is in Mozilla’s Thunderbird client. This has two effective components; a spam filter,  which looks for significant words in the subject line, and a trainable junk mail filter, which works from the list of addresses from mails you mark as Junk. With the combination of both, I can’t place the last time I actually received a genuine spam mailing in my inbox. You do, though, have to remember to check the Spam and JunkMail folders periodically as no system is perfect, but given a few weeks of learning, it’s pretty good.  Incidentally it can also aid in the anti-malware war by allowing you to restrict the download of images except when you ask for them. For those of us who use more than one machine, Thunderbird is equally happy with both POP3 and IMAP - and best of all of course, it’s free.
I don’t know if Thunderbird can deal with Hotmail, but I have never been a fan of web-based mail clients, possibly because when I first started on the net, the web had barely been invented…

Of course if you’re constrained by corporate policy to MS Outlook you’ve more of a problem.

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Better defense

From Martin on April 06, 2012 :: 10:54 am

The recommendations given here are incomplete and even dangerous.  How to lessen your spam:

1) As Josh points out, many - but not all - spammers get your email account by scraping webpages.  So if you have a webpage of any type - FAcebook, LinkedIn, company site, etc., and you want to display your email address publically, then turn it into a jpg/gif file.  While it wont totally prevent scraping, it will lessen it.  If you own your own domain, better to set up php or similar to handle your emails from your website.

2) Stop forwarding emails to friends and family with everyone else’s emails in open view.  Be courteous to your friends and family and delete all their email addresses before forwarding an email.  And learn to start using BCC and not CC when you need to copy others on an email.

3) The advice on clicking the “unsubscribe” button is not good advice.  DO NOT CLICK “unsubscribe”.  This ia solid advice from the early days of the Internet/Web (I’ve been using the Net since the late ‘80’s). 

First off, many spammers don’t care about CAN-SPAM laws.  In fact, I would say “most” of them don’t. 

Second, by clicking the “unsubscribe” button you are VALIDATING your email address to the spammer.  So even if they are legit organization, they now have a legit email account from you that they can either sell or give away to other orgs.

4) Get a junk email account. I have a personal account, a junk mail account, and a company account.  Use them appropriately.

5) Lastly, just because Best Buy or some other company wants your contact details when you check out, tell them they dont need it.  You may not get that immediate discount but you save the hassle of future spams.  And if you are buying online, try NOT filling in a box before you complete your purchase.  Many times they “require” all fields to be filled in when in fact they dont.  Be selective.

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This site is a spammer

From be careful on May 05, 2012 :: 5:39 am

Im sorry for you if you will give out you email to this site. what they will do is to flood you email with spam and junk maill.. Big time foolsssss

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Go make your baseless allegations elsewhere

From Suzanne Kantra on May 05, 2012 :: 2:07 pm

We don’t spam anyone and our regular readers know that. If you’re going to make anonymous, baseless allegations, please go do it somewhere else.

By the way, the IP address you’re posting from in Nigeria (41.206.24.253) seems to be quite familiar with sending spam: http://www.projecthoneypot.org/ip_41.206.24.253

Suzanne Kantra
Founder, Techlicious

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Spammers

From nutty on May 07, 2012 :: 11:42 am

Way to go Suzanne, for calling out the person that accused your site of sending spam. I have been a member of your site for emmm, I can’t remember, but want to let everyone know that you do not spam. Your site has given me more information on things that I need to know, such as the travel, security, tech issues and ect. I enjoy reading your site and the info is well worth whatever emails that I receive (at the most once a day). Keep up the good work of letting people like me get around the computer world and also the outside world, I love it…...

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Thank you!

From Suzanne Kantra on May 07, 2012 :: 3:23 pm

Thank you, Nutty! Yes, we would never send email to you unless you subscribe to our newsletter.

I’m not sure what the objectives were of the previous poster. Sometimes Internet anonymity makes people feel like they can say or do anything. The fact that he was posting from a Nigerian server connected with spam makes it all the more ironic.

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Stop Spam

From Guest on January 09, 2014 :: 1:37 am

1. Check the privacy notices. The info you give to your Dr for instance, goes to the insurance company. The new hippa laws even state this.

2.Don’t fall for the “special deals”, ect. I gave mine to K-Mart so I wouldn’t have to carry a card. Yes, I was repeatedly told my info was safe. After I started receiving phone calls (3-7 a day) guaranteed me a “bigger penis” (I don’t have one-what are they trying to sell me? Is this sexual harassment?) That was the only time I gave it out for almost a year. I went to the store & complained-they had NO copy of privacy notices. But the calls have stopped.

Love the spamtrap!! I’ll have one myself today!

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