How to Stop Spam and Protect Your Identity

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How to stop spam
Learn how to stop spam and unwanted email.

This article explains how to stop spam and not only save yourself time, but protect your identity as well. First, I’ll provide an overview of spam, then I’ll talk about how it can be filtered both automatically and manually.

What is Spam?

Spam is the use of electronic messaging systems (mainly email) to send unsolicited bulk messages to multiple people simultaneously.  While the most widely recognized form of spam is e-mail spam, the term is applied to similar abuses in other media such as: instant messages, comments, classified ads, text messages, telephone calls and messages, online discussion forums, social media posts and even junk faxes. For the purposes of this article, I’ll focus on email spam.

E-mail spam today is usually sent via “zombie networks”, which are networks of virus- or worm-infected personal computers in homes and offices around the world. The computers are infected without knowledge of the owners, and their resources are called upon at random times.

Many modern worm viruses install a “backdoor” that allows spammers to access computers and use them for malicious purposes, such as to send unwanted messages. This complicates attempts to control the spread of these unwanted messages, as in many cases the message doesn’t even originate from the spammer.

What is a Spammer?

A spammer is a person, or group of persons, who sends unwanted email. Usually, these are people who think that they are going to get rich on the Internet by flooding inboxes with unwanted email messages and hoping for a response.

They often do get a response. However, the response is from outraged people who receive the unwanted email and complain to the ISP of the spammer, which usually gets the offenders dial-in accounts, email addresses, and/or web pages blocked or removed.

Spam Filters

Sometimes, it seems that we spend more time dealing with unimportant email, than we do with legitimate messages. It takes time to clean out our inbox, opening messages, scanning to see if the content applies to us, and then either deleting or adding it to our spam folder.

Automatic Filtering

Fortunately, all of the major email providers filter out suspicious message automatically. As a result, many spam email messages never reach your inbox. Email providers such as Gmail, Yahoo, Mail.com, etc. have specialized filters that look for email from known spammer IP addresses and email accounts. In addition, the filters analyze individual email addresses for keywords and patterns that indicate the message is fraudulent.

Manual Filtering

On top of the automatic filtering capability, individual email account holders have the ability to add messages to their personal spam list. As a user, if you determine a message is spammy, fraudulent, phishing, etc., then you can add it to your own spam filter.

To add a message to your own Spam list, just select the message, and then click on the Spam button, usually located at the top of your email list. If you’ve already opened the message, look for the button at the top of the email. Once you click the button, the message is deleted and you won’t receive messages from that email address anymore.

An alternative method is to click on the Unsubscribe link in the email. Then, follow the instructions on the sender’s website to remove yourself from the distribution list. However, I would strongly caution you to only do this if you are sure the email is from a legit, known source. If you click on the Unsubscribe link in a fraudulent email, all you’ve done is confirm your email address, which is likely to increase spam and junk mail.

Resources for Reporting and Combating Spam

In addition to unsubscribing from legitimate lists, manually filtering out unwanted messages, and reporting fraud to your mail provider, there are industry resources that can provide further help. Following is a short list:

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – The FTC website has information about the Federal Trade Commission’s recent law enforcement actions against deceptive commercial email and emailers responsibilities under the CAN-SPAM law. In the “For Consumers” section, you’ll find tips on how to stop spam and reduce the amount of trash email in your in-box.

FTC – Forward unsolicited commercial e-mail to the Commission at UCE@FTC.GOV

CAUCE – Coalition Against Unwanted Commercial E-mail seeks to defend the interests of the average Internet user.

Federal Communications Commission – Many consumers find unsolicited e-mail to be annoying and time-consuming. In addition, unwanted messages sent to wireless phones and other wireless devices can be intrusive and costly.

In 2003, Congress enacted the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act to curb it. As required by the Act, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted rules that prohibit sending unwanted commercial e-mail messages to wireless devices without prior permission. This ban took effect in March 2005. In addition, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) adopted detailed rules that restrict sending unwanted commercial e-mail messages to computers.

The Spamhaus.org Project is an international nonprofit organization whose mission is to track the Internet’s operations, to provide dependable real-time protection for Internet networks, to work with Law Enforcement Agencies to identify and pursue offenders worldwide, and to lobby governments for effective legislation.

Questions and Comments

If you have any questions about how to stop spam, please post a message below. Also, if you have any additional suggestions for combating this problem, please share your advice.

For more information, see Phishing and Spoofing Schemes and Anti-Virus Software.

Michael Kissiah is the owner of Brandy Lane Publishing, LLC, which owns and operates a small portfolio of websites, including eInvestigator.com. Michael created eInvestigator.com more than 20 years ago after working as a private investigator in the state of Florida. Since that time, he has become an expert at how to find information online and has written over 1000 articles on topics related to the investigation industry. In addition, he is the author of the "Private Investigator Licensing Handbook", available at Amazon.com.

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