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Canning the SPAM!

Kim Komando, Host
America's Top-Rated Computer/Internet Talk Show

Kim Komando Show

Repair your credit. Clean your septic tank. Herbal relief. Receive large amounts of money hidden in Nigeria.

These are all things that landed in my e-mail inbox recently. I didn't request any of them. Nor did I want them. They're all spam--junk e-mail. These e-mail messages are broadcast by the thousands to unwilling recipients worldwide. Sending spam is cheap.

The spammer's only hard costs are the list of e-mail addresses and an Internet account. However, it's not uncommon for a spammer to use a free Internet account. The spammer soon abandons the account, avoiding that cost entirely.

The response rate to spam has been estimated at less than one-half of one percent. That probably would not be worthwhile to a legitimate business. But spammers make money on that return because it doesn't cost much to get started.

Most e-mail users have learned to delete spam. So spammers use friendly subject lines designed to entice people into opening the spam. For instance, I recently received spam with the subject line, "You sent me a blank message. Was there something you wanted?" Another said, "Remember me from high school?"

Some spammers pose as reasonable operations. They tell you that if you reply with a "remove" request, you will be erased from the spammer's list. That won't happen. Your reply simply validates your address.

How did they get your address to begin with? Many people land on spam lists by posting messages to an Internet newsgroup or on a Web site message board. Perhaps you signed a Web site's guest book.

Spammers use specialized automated software to harvest e-mail addresses off Web pages. The software even pulls e-mail addresses from within public chat rooms. They have probably plucked millions this way over the years.

It could be that you registered a software program or purchased something online without noticing a box was already checked for you. This box gave the company permission to send you third-party offers.

Unfortunately, it can be hard to protect yourself from spam. But there are some things you can do.

For starters, be very particular about where and to whom you openly provide your e-mail address. One way to cut down on spam is to sign up for one of the free e-mail services such as those available at Hotmail (http://www.hotmail.com) and Yahoo! (http://www.yahoo.com) -- even if you already have a permanent e-mail address. Use your free account in places that might make your account vulnerable.

Never use your permanent e-mail address when posting information on the Web. Stick something into the address that others will know to remove. For instance, rather than posting as joejones@domain.com, use joejones@nospam.domain.com. Anyone familiar with spam will know to remove the "nospam" portion but the harvesting software spammers use won't.

Some ISPs apply filters to e-mail in an attempt to block spam. Yahoo! sends bulk mail to a junk mail folder. Yahoo! also permits its users to enter addresses they want blocked.

MSN has a similar system. However, it allows strength settings for the junk mail folder. These range from Low to Exclusive. Setting Hotmail on High or Exclusive runs the risk of shunting good mail into the junk mail folder. To avoid that, you can specify a list of good addresses.

America Online puts filters on its mail servers to keep as much spam as possible out. It also offers its members extensive filtering tools (Keyword: Mail Controls).

Most e-mail programs allow you to set up filters based on key phrases. When mail comes in that contains one of those phrases, it goes directly to the trash.

You might be able to trace spam back to an ISP, which might well kick the spammer off the system. Tracing is a problem because spammers often forge their address. But e-mail programs make it possible to try to figure out where e-mail came from.

For instance, in Eudora, a button near the top labeled "Blah, Blah, Blah" will give you message headers. In Outlook 2000, double click the message, click View and Options. The message headers will be displayed.

In the headers, you will see a number that will look like this: 210.91.78.209. This number tells you where the mail came from. Type that number in at Network Tools (http://www.network-tools.com), select Network Lookup and you just might find an address and telephone number.

Lawsuits are possible in some states, particularly Washington. A few people have successfully sued spammers. But the judicial process can be arduous, and often results in little reward.

Better to let the government do it. The Federal Trade Commission recently settled a suit against spammers who ran a chain letter scam. The spammers agreed not to repeat the offense, to return any money they receive from the case in the future, and allow FTC oversight of their activities.

Copyright © - WestStar TalkRadio Network. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. Kim Komando is a nationally syndicated talk radio host, Computer Editor Popular Mechanics and author. You can subscribe to Kim's free weekly newsletter by sending an e-mail to: subscribe@komando.com.

Read, "Kim Komando's 10 Commandments for Kids Online" and Stop "Friendly" Spam.

Kim Komando Newsletter

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