How to Avoid Spam

Tech Talker’s expert tips on how to eliminate spam from your life once and for all.

Eric Escobar,
March 14, 2012
Episode #021

I’ve recently had a run in with spam that came out of nowhere. It seemed so harmless at first, one or two emails from people saying that they knew me, then another from a Nigerian princess asking for my help in converting her substantial fortune into American dollars, followed by an offer for cheap prescription drugs, as well as many other solicitations I’d rather not mention.

At first it was annoying, then frustrating, and then outright infuriating. It became incredibly time-consuming to filter out the junk from the real stuff. Before this all happened, I would get about 20 emails a day, and after the onslaught, I’d be bombarded with 10-20 in an hour. I’ll admit it – for a while I felt discouraged and a little hopeless. But here’s how I beat it.

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How Spam Works

First off, let me give you a little background on how spam works exactly. On the surface, it’s pretty simple. Some person with too much time on their hands sends out thousands of emails to random people in hopes that their junk mail might appeal to someone. After all, email is free, and you can reach anyone in the world in seconds. However, after digging deeper into the inner workings of the spam world, I found out that things run much deeper and are far more cunning then a single person sending out some harmless junk.

Let’s say I visit a website and decide I want to sign up for a free account for something, or maybe I wrote down my email on an interest list at school. Or maybe I simply have my email address on a public website for anyone to see. All of these can be the source of the problem.

A spammer can take my email and then sell it, along with thousands of others, to a compiled list. Other spammers will use these enormous lists as their address book with which to send anything they wish, to millions of people.

From here, your email address will probably be added to more and more lists, which means you will receive more and more emails, until you just can’t take it anymore, pull the plug from your computer and go off to live in the woods where no spam can ever get to you again. Okay, so I took that to the extreme. But in all seriousness, it can get insane very quickly!

How to Block Spam

I know what you’re thinking, “Eric, stop being so dramatic. All you have to do is just block the email address where the junk is coming from and that’ll put an end to the spam, right?” WRONG. Unfortunately, spammers get past this pretty easily by sending emails from any one of their hundreds of accounts. It is next to worthless to block spam accounts one by one.

Luckily, there is some hope if you’re like me and are up to your eyes in spam. Depending on the type of email account you have, your first line of defense should be to report spam to your email service provider. No matter if you use Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, or any other, there’s usually an option to report spam. This step is extremely simple, and incredibly effective. Email providers already filter millions of junk messages daily by creating an extensive list of spam emails that can be analyzed to find patterns. From here, email is scrutinized with algorithms to separate the goods from the junk. So every time you report spam, you aren’t only helping your inbox, you’re also helping everyone else out there who uses that service! Most email service providers do a great job of this, but Gmail is by far the best. It is simple to use and goes into effect almost overnight!

What if you want to sign up for an account online for a store, a service, or anything else but don’t want spammers to get a hold of the address? I suggest using a temporary email from 10 Minute Mail or Guerrilla Mail. These websites will give you a temporary email account so that you can sign up for something once, but after a certain period of time (anywhere from 1 to 10 minutes depending on the service), the address expires and if someone tries to use that email for spam, they’re out of luck. This way, your personal inbox stays squeaky clean.

But just like anything, the root of the problem is not the spam mail itself; rather it’s how the spammers got your address in the first place!

So with that, here are my 3 Quick and Dirty Tips to prevent junk mail:

  1. Don’t post your email on public websites if you don’t absolutely have to! (And if you do, set up a separate email address that is separate from your personal one).

  2. If you’re going to sign up for an internet account for a website that doesn’t seem 100% reputable (or you only need to access it once) use a temporary email address!

  3. If you do end up getting spam (which you probably will anyway) report it to your email service provider so that they can help keep your inbox clean.

One more thing: If you signed up to receive a newsletter from a website, and it’s just not providing you with the information you need, be sure to “unsubscribe” to that newsletter instead of reporting it as spam!

And in case you were wondering, after reporting all my spam email, removing my personal address from public websites, and using temporary email accounts, I now receive a spam email about once every other week. Success!

Do you have nagging tech questions? Post them to the Tech Talker Facebook wall and I will be happy to answer them. I’m going to be dedicating an entire episode to listener questions soon, so make sure to let me know what you want me to tackle in the future.

Have a question about anything in this episode? Or a suggestion for a future podcast? Send me an email at techtalker@quickanddirtytips.com or post it on the Tech Talker Facebook wall.

Until next time, I’m the Tech Talker, keeping technology simple!

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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