your mailbox gets crammed full of junk mail so quickly that you
haven't got time to find the real mail, its time to do something.
My own solution is ChoiceMail. This inexpensive program has solved
all my problems.
I've been on the internet for some time, and had a website for
several years, so it seems that lots of people have got my email
address. When my email address got onto one of those "millions
of email addresses" CDs which get sold to and used by spammers,
my junk mail increased markedly. Then when the email harvesting
programs arrived, more junk mail than ever started filling my inbox.
Before I discuss some solutions to the problem, let's start with
What is spam?
Usually spam is considered to be junk email, or unsolicited commercial
email. The problem is we actually might want to receive some commercial
email. Just as most people do not put a "No Junk Mail"
sign on their letterbox because they might wish to occasionally
flick through a catalogue, you might be interested in getting some
mail if only to gather their address to add to your database. You
might find it worthwhile to network in this way within your local
area. In fact you might want to hear about the services of your
neighbours, or send your own unsolicited commercial email. The problem
is that some people bombard you with unwelcome, unpleasant or extremely
annoying emails which fuels the anti-spam debate.
Slightly more than 70% of the emails I receive every day is filtered
out as SPAM. This includes sex aids, health aids, finance and mortgage
offers and dubious investment reports and get rich quick schemes.
About 20% of my emails is junk mail - they are offers or adverts
or newsletters because of some of the subscription lists I belong
to. I don't always read them - in fact I rarely read them but they
get filtered into appropriate folders in my inbox ready for the
day when I'm in the mood to browse through them. That leaves the
10% of genuine email which I do read and handle normally.
So you can see that I treat "junk" mail differently from
"spam". For example, I belong to a business association
where I freely give out my email address. I therefore expect to
receive mail from other members of the association yet I may have
little use of their services. Mail from these people may not interest
me but I'd be mad to turn down the opportunity of networking with
a local business because I might want to be able to sell something
to them. So it is a mistake to regard ALL
mail from someone who is not in your contacts list as spam.
What is a Spammer?
Typically a spammer will be using a "system" which they
have paid a considerable amount for. They'll have received a get
quick rich scheme, possibly including a replicating website, a wad
of email addresses or an email harvester program, programs to send
out their emails and all the instructions. Yes, you guessed it -
the people who are making the money are the ones with the programs
to sell to the spammers!
The jewel in the crown is the program which sends out the emails
in such a way as to make it difficult for spam blockers. The "from"
and "reply-to" addresses as well as the subject line are
randomly changed at regular and quite short intervals making it
difficult to identify as spam. Frequently the sending addresses
are ficticious and quite often so is the "to" address.
I regularly receive 10 or 12 emails with the same content, variable
subject lines and totally ficticious "to" addresses within
my domain. Because my domain uses a "catchall" address,
these ficticious emails are actually received. I have no doubt at
all in my own mind that the person who is making money in this case
is the one selling the addresses or the "per email service".
Rather than just deleting all the offensive emails you receive,
you want to be able to set up a system where the spam you receive
is filtered out of your inbox preferably without you having to do
anything. There are several ways to automate this task.
Method 1: Most email programs allow
you to set filters or rules to handle your mail. You set a rule
so that mail from a particular address or mail with a particular
subject line gets transferred directly to trash. This will work
quite well for minor problems such as a persistent emailer that
you cannot unsubscribe, or persistent subject lines. For example,
you could set up a filter to dump any email with "free Euro",
"free money" or "free investing report" in the
subject line into the Trash. There is no point in trying to block
the sender for these emails because that is a constantly changing
variable (and almost certainly fake), but the subject for this particular
email is one of those three and does not appear to change.
Method 2: Many ISPs have an optional
spam blocker service such as Spam Arrester and Spam Assassin. However,
these do not necessary suit everybody. Some of these programs read
the headers and if it appears to be spam, the subject line is edited
and [SPAM] is inserted in front of the first word. You are then
encouraged to create a filter so that "[SPAM]" in the
subject line will be transferred to a different folder or automatically
deleted. The difficulty is that these programs seem to be unable
to distinguish between real spam and subscribed to newsletters.
SpamCop uses a similar algorithm to detect and block spam, however
it holds emails it considers to be spam and sends a complaint to
the sending ISP, who then threatens to disconnect you from your
service. If you try to trace back through SpamCop to try to discover
who doesn't want to receive your emails any more, you are likely
to hit blank walls. While this attitude may give great satisfaction
to people who are sick of being bombarded with spam, it is very
frustrating for senders of legitimate newsletters or senders of
Christmas greetings to their own customers!!! (Speaking from experience
It is becoming a regular complaint of people sending out their
newsletters that many just do not get through because the spam filters
used by ISPs are dumping all bulk mailings including some legitimate
Install your own spam blocker. I use and recommend ChoiceMail.
ChoiceMail sits between the ISP and my mail client. It checks all
mail as it is received against my whitelist, my blacklist, and filter
list. Any emails on my whitelist are automatically passed through
to my email program. Emails on my blacklist are automatically deleted.
My filters include the ability to search through the content of
the email and if it finds "You are receiving this email because
you subscribed to SitePro News" for example, then it passes
it through to the SitePro folder in my email program. Any emails
which don't fit into any category are held in a pending area for
4 days. A reply is sent to pending emails asking the sender to confirm
that they want to contact me (they fill in a permission form). In
most cases spammers never see that email because they didn't use
their real address, so those emails just get deleted after a few
days. I can check to see what is sitting in my pending box at any
time; I can preview it without transferring it; I can accept any
mail I notice that I do want to receive; or I can block any sender,
or I can wait for the sender to confirm that they are "real"
by clicking on a link in my reply email.
ChoiceMail has saved me hours of time and frustration. I can't
speak highly enough of it. Please go ahead and have a trial run.
You can download the program for 14 days free trial. It's worth
much more than A$70 (US$39.95) just in the time you save.
If you need help in setting it up, let me know. If you'd rather
not pay US$ then contact me directly and I'll invoice you in Australian
dollars (inc GST).
For more information, click here: ChoiceMail
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Protecting your website
Email Harvesters or spam bots search through all the pages in
the internet to look for email addresses to collect, put in a database,
and sell over and over again to spammers. These bots work in much
the same way as the search bots used by search engines. If you
set up a mailto link on your website, the email harvesters will
find it and collect it within hours of your site being uploaded.
You want to make it easy for your customers to contact you. So
you want to have a clickable link or a feedback form for them.
But you do not want your email address to be located in the code
of your page. In the past, some people recommended things like
putting spaces in the address, using ASCII codes or using graphics
to replace the text. The first two options just don't work any
more and the last is just simply NOT user friendly. You have to
make it easy for your customers to reach you. Asking them to re-type
your email address will turn them off.
we are left with 3 more options:
- Encryption. If you do a search, you'll find
dozens of sites which will help you encrypt your email address.
It will look like a mess of numbers and symbols in the code but
will show up properly for human eyes. Look for encryption which
is complex, and variable, or that only encrypts some of the letters,
otherwise the more clever spam bots will still be able to steal
your email address.
scripts around. Basically, you are going to split up your email
address into variables and then use a document.write command
to stitch the variables together again. You can call the variables
anything you like which makes it much harder for the spam bots
to decifer. Once again this method keeps your email clickable
and will fool most spam bots.
- Form. Using a feedback form is the obvious
protection but only if you use a method which puts your address
into a separate file. Matt Wright's formmail and similar scripts
use a "hidden" field with recipient email address. This is only
hidden from your human-eyed reader, not from any program scanning
your code. So first, you MUST use a form which puts your mail
server and your email address into a configuration file or into
the form script, not on the web page itself. Secondly, we need
to protect the form from another type of spam bot which searches
for forms and fills in predictable fields like "name" and "email",
fills these fields with fake data and then submits a spam email
to you. There are numerous ways to foil these bots such as using
2 pages or using field names inside the code which don't
exist on the form or using Captcha. This latter method asks users
to fill in a field with the letters and/or numbers displayed
in a graphic or jumbled format. The programs attempting to fill
in a form via the code will not discover the data to complete
this field and the submission will fail.
A simple form with all the elements of protection mentioned above
can be used to replace the mailto link. It will popup into a small
window and provide the basic fields for your customer to send you
a quick message. Have a look at My Contact Station on the Products page.