When it comes to spam, clichés ring true. An ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure. Make no mistake, it’s not hard for spammers to find your contact information. Whenever you make your e-mail address available on the Internet, there’s a chance that a junk mailer will snap it up. Here are just a few online activities that can expose you to spam:
- Chatting online
- Posting notes to message boards or newsgroups
- Joining mailing lists
- Creating a member profile on a web site
- Creating a web page (where you may be listed as a Webmaster)
But here’s the good news. Although you may not be able to keep your address away from all spammers, there are some precautions you can take to can reduce your exposure.
1. Create dummy identities
Many ISPs allow you to create more than one e-mail address on the same account – these are called aliases. To avoid exposing your important accounts, you can use one e-mail address for important personal contacts (that is, for friends and family), one for business use, and then create additional addresses for more public uses such as chatting, newsgroups, or e-zine subscriptions. If you then find that you start receiving spam at a dummy e-mail address, just drop that address and create a new one. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to change those dummy e-mail addresses every few months; look at it as a standard security precaution along the lines of changing your password(s) periodically.
2. Choose your venues with care
Be careful where and when you expose your e-mail address. For example, if you subscribe to a reputable service (such as Ananzi’s newsletter), you’re pretty safe. On the other hand, subscribing to a daily porn mailing list is an invitation to endless junk mail. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
3. Check the privacy notice
In many cases, online forms that request e-mail addresses and other personal information link to a privacy statement that outlines the web site’s use of your information. If there is a privacy statement, and you’re considering providing personal data, read the statement. If a site doesn’t post a privacy statement (or the statement doesn’t guarantee your privacy), think twice about posting your information there.
4. Avoid replies
Reputable mailers allow you to unsubscribe, or remove your name from a mailing list, usually simply by replying to the message you wish to stop receiving with the word remove in the subject line. (Some e-zines or newsletter may require you to unsubscribe through the web site where you subscribed in the first place.) Unfortunately, unethical spammers often take advantage of this system and use your reply as a verification of your e-mail address, leading to even more junk mail. As a rule, don’t reply to junk mail that you didn’t sign up for in the first place.