Junk E-mail & Spam Filters

Don’t you just hate it when you open your inbox and see 324 new messages?  And then it turns out 322 of them are junk e-mails?  Sending thousands or millions of e-mails takes little effort and costs spammers almost nothing.  The cost to consumers, however, is huge; not just in the time it takes us to wade through the sea of spam to see the e-mails we really want, but also in the risk posed by deceptive advertising disguised as legitimate e-mails.  Spam e-mail is commonly used to spread malware, and malicious hackers could also be using your computer as part of a botnet to send spam to other computers.

Spam Filters

Spam filtering is a critical way of minimizing your exposure to e-mails containing scams, Phishing schemes, botnets, and malware, in addition to limiting plain old junk mail trying to sell you something you don’t want.  Popular e-mail programs feature automatic junk mail filtering. These programs take suspected spam e-mails and immediately place them in the trash or a junk mail folder for periodic review and deletion.  The simplest ones normally check the subject line for words that are spam triggers such as “xxx,” or “Viagra,” or e-mails not written in English. The more sophisticated programs use complicated algorithms to weed out the good e-mails from the bad.  Many Internet service providers (ISPs) already run spam filtering as a service to customers.  You can also buy specialized software to filter unwanted emails.  To buy software, check for reviews at websites such as:


What else you can do to limit spam and junk e-mail:

  1. Be a miser when it comes to sharing your e-mail address.
  • Don’t just give it out willy-nilly to everyone.  If you’re dealing with a company unfamiliar to you, try to get more information about it – check the company out on the Internet or look for complaints with the Better Business Bureau or the Attorney General for the state in which the company is located before giving them your e-mail or other personal information.
  • If possible, don’t have your e-mail displayed on public websites, including organizations, forums, and social networking sites to which you belong.  If you do have your e-mail up, try to disguise it from the Automated E-mail Harvester.  One way of doing this is writing out the words “at” and/or “dot” so it reads “youatgmaildotcom” instead of “you@gmail.com.”
  • If a website or retailer asks for your e-mail, check its privacy policy first to see if it shares the information with others (its “partners” or “affiliates”) and if you can opt-out.
  • Use BCC instead of CC when sending out e-mails to groups and ask others to do the same.
  1. Use a temporary or alternate e-mail address.
  • Create a temporary/disposable e-mail address when dealing with an unknown person or entity.  Many websites offer free temporary e-mail addresses.  A web search for “temporary e-mail address” will yield numerous options for you.
  • Use an alternate e-mail address when signing-up for e-mail alerts from retailers and other businesses to keep your personal inbox spam free.  You can even set it up to forward to your main account and, if you notice that it starts transmitting spam, you can change it.
  1. Don’t respond to obvious spammers.
  • Responding to what is obviously spam (e.g., chain letters, Foreign Lottery prizes, etc.), even if it’s just to curse out the sender, isn’t a good strategy because it just verifies to the spammer that you have a working e-mail address.  In fact, if your spam filter doesn’t catch these e-mails, don’t even open them – delete immediately.
  • Do not click on links or open attachments from senders you don’t know.  No, NOT even the unsubscribe link.  If you didn’t ask to subscribe for info on getting Viagra without a prescription, what are the chances that they’ll unsubscribe you?
  1. Opt-out/unsubscribe from e-mail solicitations.
  • By law, legitimate companies and advertisers (e.g., your credit card company, clothing retailers where you hold a rewards card, and similar companies) who e-mail you must provide you with a means to unsubscribe from their e-mail lists.  Usually, the instructions or link to unsubscribe is located in tiny print at or near the bottom of the e-mail.
  • Even better is to try to opt-out of e-mails before they even start coming.  Often, when you purchase an item online, retailers will ask for detailed information including an e-mail address.  Read the fine print and uncheck any pre-selected boxes to make sure you are not agreeing to join one or more of their email lists.
  1. Report spam.
  • Report spam e-mails by forwarding them to the FTC at spam@uce.gov.  The FTC may use this information to pursue and prosecute deceptive advertisers.
  • You can also file a complaint with the FTC by following the instructions here.
  • Report spammers to their domain or Internet service providers.
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A method of tricking consumers into handing over their personal information by posing as a legitimate entity.

Data that can be used to identify you, like your name, address, birth date, or Social Security number

A website that allows you to build a profile and connect with others

Like a regular harvester, but instead of combing a field for crops, an automated e-mail harvester combs the internet for e-mail addresses using a computer program.

Blind Carbon Copy. The BCC field in an e-mail editor can be used to send a copy of an e-mail to a list of recipients without allowing each of the recipients to see who else got a copy. It’s a way of being discreet (or sneaky).

E-mail, telemarketing or internet scam letting you know that you have won some fantastic sum of money (‘you’ve won $26.4 million dollars!’) and indicating that all that’s necessary to collect your cash prize is payment of a fee to ‘cover’ processing-related charges, taxes, and other transaction costs. You have a 100% chance of losing and even worse, participating in foreign lotteries is illegal.

Established in 1914 under President Woodrow Wilson, the FTC is the United States government’s primary regulatory authority in the area of consumer protection and anti-competitive business practices in the marketplace. Its Bureau of Consumer Protection assumes the lead in the Commission’s efforts to eliminate deceptive advertising and fraudulent business practices at work in the economy.

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