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Top Ten Junk Email Do's and Don'ts

By Esu Matra
Monday, December 13, 2004; 10:40pm EST

First, a definition (several definitions, actually)...

Spam Email: Refers generally to email communication that you do not want, from senders that you do not have any existing business relationship with, sent in large quantities of mostly identical messages. Also refers to junk email, UCE (Unsolicited Commercial Email), and sometimes to bulk email.

It seems that email usage has turned from being a window on the world to being in a cell in a fortress or castle. You are afraid that you don't have enough defenses. You don't like being in the fort, because you remember that only a short while ago this same location was a beautiful open field.

We wrote the preceding paragraph before attending the momentous U.S. FTC Spam Forum that ended in May 2003. The forum was attended by people on all of the many sides of the "anti-junk-email" war. But, at least one of the panel members echoed the feeling that the junk email problem will be solved when your email in-box operates like it did when you (for you internet old-timers) first started. In those days, you just got email from people and organization you knew, and the "open field" of email communication really was beautiful - no junk.

The attendees at the FTC conference and other similar forums about junk email do not always agree on the definition of, the best solution to, or the scope of the junk email problem. But for most emailers, there is general agreement that it is a growing problem that they want stopped - fast!

There are many possible variations to the top ten junk email DO's and DONT's list below. The items are presented with some humor to keep a light edge to a serious problem:

1. DON'T use the unsubscribe option or reply to junk mails - this option at the bottom of a junk email message is a trick that spammers use to make sure that the address is real. However, at the FTC forum it was reported that unsubscribing does not seem to increase spam, so it may not result in too much damage if you have unsubscribed or replied in the past. Also, if you remember subscribing to the sender, and believe them to be reputable, then use the unsubscribe option provided.

2. DO spend time complaining about spam, responsibly and appropriately. Do realize that the sender of any email can be faked, along with other information. Your internet service provider (ISP) can help you in tracking down the real sender.

3. DON'T view or even pre-view a suspicious message while online. Why? The pictures used in some messages are only retrieved from the spammer's computers when you view the message, and at that time you could be telling the spammers that you received the message. It has been observed that identical junk messages may have different codes - possibly to get past email filters, or possibly to track who opens the messages. Note that some online webmail providers allow you to not retrieve images when viewing messages, and this option is recommended to prevent spamsters from measuring the effectiveness of their work.

4. DON'T buy anything from a spammer. Search and find a substitute elsewhere.

5. DO read privacy policies of every site that you give personal information to. These documents are on every responsible organization's website, and the pages tell you what they will do with your personal information.

6. DO realize that you may have okay'd the spam - perhaps you provided your email address to a company that stated in its privacy policy that it will provide your information "to affiliated sites"... this means that if they affiliate with 10,000 sites, then you may get 10,000 or more 'opt-in' junk emails. More responible or ethical of companies will let you decide, or inform you of other options. However, as
noted at the FTC forum and elsewhere, this creates a loophole - claimed by bulk emailers as legal - for using your address for just about any purpose. Millions of people have wanted to win contests or prizes, and given their email addresses, only in many cases to find out that they won a ride on the "Wheel of Spam Carousel"

7. DO get a disposable or extra email account to give to "suspicious" sites (even if they have a privacy policy that you like).

8. DON'T get too crazy or upset about all of the junk - you have better uses for your energy and talents! Also, calling the spammer-provided toll-free numbers (in the U.S. at least) can reveal your telephone number - even if you block the caller id.

9. DO be prepared to spend money, time, or both in order to achieve a slimmer email in-box. There are products and services that can help, some free, but they all take time to understand and use effectively.

10. DO stay informed - technology, laws, and tricks are evolving. Locations of online resources are provided in many places, and there are a continuing stream of articles in the news.

About the Author
Copyright 2003 Esu Matra. For Esu's free ebook excerpt from "Block Junk Email!", a technical and fun document explaining the junk e-mail problem with characters such as "Grandpa Spam" and "Spammi", visit http://www.BlockJunkEmail.com

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