Spam – the junk mail of the internet

spamI was going to do a whole post on “what the heck is spam” but it would have been a very short post – Spam is electronic junk mail.

Unlike paper junk mail, however, Spam can be dangerous in that sometimes it can include offensive content, promote fraudulent schemes and even carry computer viruses.

Most people recognize Spam when they see it and they just trash it and move on. This leads me to question “what is the purpose of Spam?”. If people just ignore it and delete it, who is getting any benefit from these obvious spammy emails?

Well, Spammers know that the vast majority of Spam recipients are going to do just that. Ignore it and put it in the trash. That’s fine, they don’t care about us. It’s the small percentage of people who do get curious enough (or are naïve enough) to click and open the email, review and read the email and possibly purchase whatever the email is peddling. You’ve heard the saying “there’s one born every minute”.

And with the amount of people that these Spammers send these spammy emails to, they are going to find more than “one”.

Think of it this way – there is no big gain if you send a Spam email to 100 people and 1% leads to a purchase – that’s only one sale.

But Spammers don’t Spam 100 people, they Spam millions. So 1% of, lets say even only 2 million – that’s 20,000 sales! I think you get the picture.

And Spammers will try anything to get you to open that email. There are promises of prizes, threats that your credit is in danger – hard not to open that one – and they can even disguise their email to look like it’s coming from someone you know. This is called “spoofing”.

This reminds me of that Saturday Night Live skit about the Land Shark trying to get the girl to open the door.

So how do Spammers get my email address?

  1. If you give out your email address, there is a chance that it could end up on an email list somewhere. Spammers will illegally buy lists of email addresses.
  2. Spammers have programs that search the internet for any text that contains the “@” symbol because the majority of email addresses include this symbol.
  3. Like cracking a safe combination, spammers have programs that generate millions of letter/number combinations randomly hoping that some turn out to be real email addresses.

There isn’t much you can do to prevent your email address from “getting around” but there are ways to control the Spam you do receive.

The key to preventing and managing spam is to protect yourself, your email and your computer.

Protect Yourself

  1. Never respond to an email asking for your personal information. I don’t care how legitimate it looks, don’t do it. If you’re unsure, make a phone call.

    I got an email once from my bank (or so it appeared) telling me that my credit was being compromised, click here to update your security information. I was suspicious so I called my bank. They told me that they would never send this kind of alert in an email, advised me not to click on anything and that this was Spam.

  2. Use numbers and letters in your email addresses and passwords. They are harder to figure out.
  3. Change your passwords regularly. It reduces the risk of your passwords being discovered.
  4. Don’t store user names and passwords on your computer. Especially in a document named “user names and passwords”.

Protect your email

  1. Delete Spam email messages without opening them. Sometimes opening the email is all they want you to do. Now you have validated your email address and if you weren’t already on a list, you are now.
  2. Turn off the preview pane in your email. Go to “settings” to do that. The preview pane lets you preview the contents of the email without actually opening it. Spammers have codes that can often treat a previewed email as an opened one.
  3. Filter your emails. I use Gmail and it filters Spam for me. Gmail has a way of determining what emails meet the criteria for “spam” and throw these emails in my “spam” folder. It doesn’t delete them, I have to go in and do that but that’s a good thing because occasionally Gmail will put an email in there that actually isn’t Spam. I check and empty this folder regularly.

Protect your computer

  1. Install Anti-Virus software. I have yet to here of a nice virus. Spam viruses are bad and the only way to stop them is Anti-Virus software. The cost of purchasing this software is far less than the cost of not having this protection.
  2. Disconnect and shut down your computer regularly. As long as your computer is on, viruses can get in. Shut down when your’re not using it. (I didn’t know this and will start following this advice)

Important to Note

If you give your email address to a retailer or organization – for an email receipt or to get notifications of some kind – the email you get from them is not classified as Spam. You have given them permission to send you emails. Spam is unsolicited email.

If you are receiving emails from a legitimate retailer or organization and no longer wish to receive emails, you can “unsubscribe” at any time. If there is no option to “unsubscribe” in the email contents (look way, way at the bottom) you have been Spammed.

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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