Have you ever wondered why you get so much SPAM (junk mail) in your email inbox? Where do they get your address from, and why do they send it?
There are essentially two reasons. First is the same reason that Pepsi pays $25 million for a thirty second Super Bowl ad: exposure equals sales. Secondly, they may want to cause you or your computer harm or somehow scam you.
So How Do They Get My Address?
Your address is acquired by spammers through a number of methods. Some of them actually just generate random addresses and send messages to those. If the mail goes through, then they assume it is valid and add it to their lists. These aren’t quite as common as other methods though, mainly because there are easier ways to get addresses that are known to have worked at some point in time. Some buy lists of addresses from places that collect them; for example you may register an account on some website that promises to email you an accurate horoscope each morning. They then could turn around and sell your address to an “affiliate.” One other method that is quite common and well disguised is sending and receiving chain mail.
Believe it or not, chain mail that you get and pass around is one of the key tools used by those who collect email addresses for nefarious purposes. How often do you get an email that shows the addresses of the fifteen other people it was sent to at the same time, and the fifteen before that, and so on? Over the course of one week, I was once able to collect a minimum of fifty unique email addresses every day. That amounted to a total of over 350 addresses!
I hate to break it to you, but most of those “prayer chains” and letters from soldiers and even those warnings about rapists in the Kmart parking lot were most likely written by a spammer. They put a lot of effort into compelling you to forward these to as many people as possible.
Another common trick they use is asking you to “make sure you send it back to me so that I know I am loved too!” This helps ensure that it eventually could be returned to the original author.
You Can Help Prevent This From Working!
I have put together 10 tips that you can use to drastically reduce the amount of SPAM that you receive, and better control what you do receive.
- If you are sending an email to more than one person NEVER use cc (carbon copy) for the additional addresses. Instead use bcc (blind carbon copy;) it will stills end to everyone, but the recipient will only be able to see their own address.
- When you are forwarding a message, delete all of the displayed addresses and signatures before you send it. Do everything to make it appear as if you originally composed the message. It is not only safer for those who sent it to you, but is also a courteous gesture.
- If you do not recognize the sender of a message in your inbox or anything else looks odd about a message, DO NOT OPEN IT! Just delete it. If you feel the overwhelming urge to investigate it, put your email program into “Offline Mode” (you can usually do this in the File menu) before you look at it. If you are using webmail, just resist the urge.
- Never click on a link inside an email message. Always copy and paste it directly into the address bar in your browser. No matter how “official” something looks, you should never trust it. That is how they run a type of scam called phishing which is used to get your personal information.
- No matter how tantalizing a spam message looks, DO NOT OPEN IT! People looking at the ads are what keep spammers in business. To satisfy your curiosity, I have some information for you that I have gathered from very reliable sources:
- You did not win the European lottery (when did you buy the ticket?) You didn’t even win a free Xbox.
- You are not the 1 millionth anything.
- PayPal does not need to confirm your password.
- There is no member of the royal family from Mumbai who will be sending you $18,000.
- No one needs your help with cashing their foreign money orders.
- Bambi did not see your profile and think that you are cute (sorry!)
- That missing girl in Texas was found eight years ago.
- Microsoft, IBM, Yahoo, nor any other company will give you money just because your email address is on a chain letter.
- And that sailor in Borneo who got decapitated because he “broke the chain” is still alive. His name is Roger and he runs a bait shop now. (You don’t believe me? Why would you believe those who wrote that story then?)
- Use an address other than your personal one for anything online. If you don’t already have one, sign up for a free email address with Hotmail, Yahoo, or GMail. Reserve your real email address for only friends, family, and business.
When registering for something online, do not sign up for the newsletter, do not check the box about receiving details about future promotions, and definitely do not allow their “affiliates” to contact you! And if you do find yourself on a mailing list, do not follow the “unsubscribe” link (remember tip #4!) Just mark it as junk and let your email program handle it.
- To find out the truth about any story or claim in an email, you can research it on sites such as Snopes or Truth or Fiction. These sites contain large databases of researched facts about most common chain letters and email scams. Check out our previous post on exposing e-mail scams.
- At no time will pressing shift or space immediately after forwarding a message cause the answer to a riddle, the final line of a poem, or a cute bunny to appear on your screen. There are thousands of types of email software, running on dozens of operating systems in hundreds of languages. There is no way to write an innocent email that causes such a thing to happen on all of those. If it does work, you now have bigger problems than just a spammer acquiring your address. It is time to run an anti-virus scan.
- Always have a good anti-virus installed, updated, and running. If you don’t know which anti-virus you ought to use, ask a geek rather than a salesman. And if you think that you may have been infected, do not just rely on your local anti-virus. Also check your computer with an online scanner such as HouseCall.
- Never post your address in a public forum; that is like putting up a sign that says “I want SPAM!” Instead, use a format like the following:
“Please send your reply to my question to john123 at yourjob dot com.”
While that isn’t fool proof, it can help. But better yet, just use the forum’s private messaging system if they have one.
Bonus tip for webmasters: Public whois information on your domain names is a good place for a spammer to get your email address. You can prevent this from happening by purchasing Domain Privacy.
By keeping yourself free from problems such as SPAM, viruses, phishing attacks and other such threats, you are also protecting your friends, family, and business contacts…anyone you send or receive email from. Remember, it wasn’t you who put your email address on that chain; it was the person who loves you enough to have sent it to you!
If you don’t follow these instructions and do not send a link to this article to everyone in your address book by the end of the day, you will receive twenty pieces of junk mail in your inbox every day for the next eight years! If you do follow these suggestions, then maybe, just maybe it will be less than that and you will be safer online. It worked for me!