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 automatically and manually filtered.
What Is Spam?
Spam is using electronic messaging systems (mainly email) to simultaneously send unsolicited bulk messages to multiple people. 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 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 the owners’ knowledge, and their resources are called upon randomly.
Many modern worm viruses install a “backdoor” that allows spammers to access computers and use them for malicious purposes, such as sending unwanted messages. This complicates attempts to control the spread of these unwanted messages, as the message doesn’t even originate from the spammer in many cases.
What is a Spammer?
A spammer is a person or group of persons who sends an unwanted email. Usually, these people think they will get rich on the Internet by flooding inboxes with unwanted messages and hoping for a response.
They often do get a response. However, the answer is from outraged people who receive the unwanted email and complain to the ISP of the spammer, which usually gets the offender’s dial-in accounts, email addresses, and/or web pages blocked or removed.
Sometimes, it seems that we spend more time dealing with unimportant emails than we do with legitimate bulletins. It takes time to clean out our inbox, open messages, scan to see if the content applies to us, and delete or add it to our spam folder.
Fortunately, all of the major email providers filter out suspicious messages 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 an 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.
On top of the automatic filtering capability, individual email account holders can add messages to their spam lists. As a user, if you determine a message is spammy, fraudulent, phishing, etc., then you can add it to your spam filter.
To add a sender to your Spam list, 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 will likely increase spam and junk mail.
- Be Cautious with Your Email Address: Avoid publicly sharing your email address on websites or forums. Spammers often scrape the internet for email addresses, so limit their exposure whenever possible.
- Create Disposable Email Addresses: For signing up on websites or services that you don’t fully trust, consider creating disposable email addresses. This way, if you start receiving spam on that address, you can simply delete it.
- Unsubscribe Responsibly: Use the “unsubscribe” link in legitimate emails to opt-out of mailing lists. However, be cautious with unknown or suspicious senders, as clicking on their unsubscribe link might confirm your email address’s validity to spammers.
- Don’t Reply to Spam: Responding to spam emails or clicking on links can lead to even more spam. Avoid engaging with suspicious emails.
- Block and Report: Most email clients allow you to block and report spam emails. By reporting spam, you contribute to the system’s ability to identify and block such emails in the future.
- Keep Your Software Updated: Make sure your email client and antivirus software are up to date. These updates often include security patches that can help identify and block spam.
- Avoid Displaying Images Automatically: Prevent emails from automatically displaying images. Spammers often use invisible images to track whether an email has been opened, which can lead to more spam.
- Use a Secondary Email: Consider using a separate email address for online shopping, subscriptions, and registrations. This way, if it receives spam, it won’t clutter your primary inbox.
- Enable Two-Factor Authentication: Secure your email account with two-factor authentication to prevent unauthorized access.
- Educate Yourself and Others: Learn to identify common spam email characteristics such as suspicious URLs, poor grammar, and strange sender addresses. Share this knowledge with friends and family to help them stay vigilant against spam as well.
- Use a Third-Party Anti-Spam Tool: Consider using third-party anti-spam tools or plugins that can offer additional layers of protection against spam.
Remember that while these strategies can significantly reduce spam, it’s impossible to eliminate it entirely. Stay vigilant, be cautious with your email address, and regularly review your spam folder to ensure that legitimate emails aren’t getting caught by mistake.
Government Efforts to Stop 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 number of trash emails in your inbox. Forward unsolicited commercial e-mails 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-mails annoying and time-consuming. In addition, unwanted messages sent to wireless phones and other devices can be intrusive and costly.
- The Spamhaus.org Project is an international nonprofit whose mission is to track the Internet’s operations, provide dependable real-time protection for Internet networks, work with Law Enforcement Agencies to identify and pursue offenders worldwide, and lobby governments for effective legislation.
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.
Questions and Comments
If you have questions about stopping spam or texts, please post a message below. Also, if you have any additional suggestions for combating this problem, please share your advice.