Email Basics: What Is Spam And What Can You Do To Avoid It?

Identity theft, fraud and spam: How to block spam by email filtering and choosing the right Internet service provider. Also how chat rooms, instant messaging, and newsgroups create spam problems.

If you're like most people, you probably receive lots of spam, and spend much of your time on the Internet deleting it from your inbox. Each day, spam costs businesses millions of dollars in wasted resources and productivity. And it can also be a main factor in crimes such as ID theft and fraud. Spam has truly become a significant problem in our society.

What is Spam?

Spam is unwanted, unsolicited email. It's irritating, time-consuming, and potentially dangerous. Much of spam promotes phony business opportunities and ventures, unproven drugs and medical treatments, and bogus discounts and giveaways. Some is considered offensive and can be harmful to young children. But certain spam is malicious. It may conceal a devastating virus that can cripple an organization's operations. Or it may trick recipients into disclosing personal information, resulting in their bank accounts being drained.

Recently, the government has called for stricter spam regulations, supporting prison time and fines for the worst offenders. But new legislation isn't likely to prevent spammers any time soon. However, there are several ways to reduce the amount of spam you receive.

Combating Spam

Since your email address is the entry point for spam, it makes sense to keep it as confidential as possible. Many Web sites share your address with numerous third parties, increasing your chances of receiving more spam. Therefore, sign up for several email accounts. Designate one as your primary address, using it to communicate with co-workers, family, and friends; the others can be used for less important activities such as completing online registrations, or participating in forums.

The software industry has responded to the spam issue by releasing a glut of email filtering applications. Some of these programs use statistical formulae to determine if an email is spam and block it accordingly. Others scrutinize the design of emails, rejecting those that fail to conform to a pre-determined format. Still others give users the ability to "blacklist" suspicious-looking email addresses. Although none of these technologies are 100% effective, using one or more of them may significantly reduce the amount of spam that reaches your inbox.

While pretending to be well-known companies, some spammers will send out emails asking recipients to update their account information. Complying with this type of request can give criminals immediate access to your financial data. This scam is known as "phishing" and you can avoid it by never responding to such requests. A responsible company will never ask you for private information via email.

Be more selective in choosing your ISP (Internet Service Provider). Some ISPs take a stronger stance on spam than others. They often have their own filtering technology to control incoming spam. Contact the customer service department of your ISP to find out how it deals with spam.

Using a distribution list is a convenient method of sending email to several users at once. But it's also a potential gold mine for spammers. Protect others by sending yourself email and placing your distribution list in the Bcc (blind carbon copy) field instead. This will hide the list from everyone but you.

Email is not the only vulnerable area that spam can attack. Spammers have infiltrated chat rooms, instant messaging, and newsgroups. But by constantly devising new ways to reduce the proliferation of electronic junk mail, perhaps we can, some day, eliminate spam altogether.

© High Speed Ventures 2011