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Reduce the Flow—10-minute Tactics to Reduce Spam

You can do a few simple things to immediately reduce the flow of spam to your email address.

Don't Respond

First of all, never respond to spam. That means don't open spam, don't send angry responses to the spam sender, and definitely don't buy anything in a spam offer. If spam failed to work as an advertising medium, there would be little value in sending it. When you buy or respond to spam, you reinforce the notion that spam works as a marketing tool. And when you respond in any manner, you confirm that your email address is an active address. As a consequence, you'll receive more spam.

Don't Post Your Email Address on the Web

Don't give your main email address to anyone on the web. That's hard to do because many websites insist on your email address when signing up for their services. It's a good idea to maintain an alternate email address with Hotmail.com, Yahoo.com, Gmail.com, or any of the other free email services on the web. Check the secondary address occasionally to check for valid email, such as subscription confirmations, and if the volume of spam to that address gets to be too much, simply abandon it and get a new secondary address.

Webmasters Shouldn't Use mailto

If you run a website, don't post your primary email address to it using the HTML code called mailto.

A mailto link allows you to insert a link in a webpage that, when clicked, triggers the web surfer's email program and inserts the email address in the To field. A link that uses this technique looks like this:

Send me an email at <a href="mailto: me@mymailaddress.com">me@mymailaddress.com</a>

Email harvester programs hunt for this code. Using a mailto is like wearing salmon-flavored socks at a cattery. You'll get bombarded with a lot of unwanted attention.

Instead, use the following JavaScript code, which achieves the same result but masks the email address. Be sure to customize the parts that say me, example.com, and Link text to your own needs.

<a href="email.html" onmouseover="this.href='mai' + 'lto:' + 'me' + '@' + 'example.com'">Link text</a>

Learn more about this at www.december14.net/ways/js/nospam.shtml.

Turn Off Image Display in Email Programs

Both Outlook and Outlook Express have a feature that turns off images in HTML email. (HTML is a web programming language that is used to create web pages.) HTML email can include pictures, fancy fonts, and layout like a magazine. If you see a picture displayed in the body of an email, it was mostly likely created with HTML.

The ability to put images in email can cause an increase in spam. That's because spammers put an invisible pixel (an image of a transparent dot) in HTML emails. When an email is opened or previewed, the invisible pixel is fetched from the spammer's server. That tells the server that the email address affiliated with that image is a good one and is ripe to receive further spam.

Outlook 2003, Outlook 2007, Outlook Express 6, and Windows Mail (on Vista) have the ability to block these images from displaying (see Figure 6.6). Here's how to turn the features on in all these programs.

Figure 6.6

Figure 6.6 Outlook Express 6 can block images from displaying in HTML emails when they are opened or in preview mode.

Outlook 2003

  1. Click the Tools menu and choose Options.
  2. Click the Security tab.
  3. Under the Download Pictures heading, click Change Automatic Download Settings button.
  4. Put a tick mark in the box marked Don't Download Pictures or Other Content Automatically in HTML Email.

Outlook 2007

  1. Click the Tools menu and choose Trust Center.
  2. On the left side, click Automatic Download
  3. Put a check mark in the box next to Don't Download Pictures Automatically in HTML Messages or RSS Items.
  4. Look at the suboptions and consider if you want to allow those. If you use the Junk Email feature in Outlook, you might consider checking off the box next to Permit Downloads in Email Messages From Senders and to Recipients Defined in the Safe Senders and Safe Recipient Lists...

Outlook Express 6/Windows Mail

  1. Click the Tools menu and choose Options.
  2. Click the Security tab.
  3. Under the Download Images heading, put a check mark in the box marked Block Images and Other External Content in HTML Email (see Figure 6.8).
    Figure 6.7

    Figure 6.7 Outlook Express and Windows Mail has an image-blocking function to stop the display of embarrassing images and invisible tracking images.

    Figure 6.8

    Figure 6.8 Some email providers, like Everyone.net, offer the ability to tweak spam filtering on the email server before it gets to your PC's email program.

Tweak Junk Mail Filtering on Your Mail Server

If your email provider allows you access to filter mechanisms on the mail server you should certainly tweak those filters to your liking. This is particularly useful if you have a vanity or company web domain and email addresses. This is like filtering junk mail at the post office before it gets put in the postman's delivery bag.

For example, I run the web site Cyberwalker.com and my company uses that domain (web address) for email. So on the server side of things I have access to spam filtering. I log on to my provider, Everyone.net, and can tweak spam filter settings (see Figure 6.8).

You might want to call your Internet service provider (if they provide your email address) or the third-party company that hosts your email to see if you can access these settings.

Turn on Junk Mail Filtering

If you use Outlook 98, 2000, 2003, or 2007, turn on the Junk filter. It is not a foolproof method, but it stops much of the spam headed for your inbox.

Outlook 98, 2000, and 2002

To turn on the Junk filter, follow these steps:

  1. In Outlook 98, click the Tools menu, and then click Organize.
  2. Next, click Junk Email.
  3. In the Automatically <action> Junk Messages list, select Move as the action, and then click to select the destination folder from the list. Click Turn On.
  4. In the Automatically <action> Adult messages list, select Move as the action and then click to select the destination folder from the list. Click Turn On.

Outlook 2003 and 2007

Outlook 2003 and 2007 offer improved junk email tools over previous versions of Outlook. Here's how to turn the those features on:

  1. Click the Tools menu and choose Options.
  2. On the Preferences tab under Email, click Junk Email.
  3. Select the level of protection you want (see Figure 6.9). If you receive a small volume of spam, choose Low. Note that High protection does a better job, but you will have to check your Junk email folder periodically to ensure that no legitimate emails have been mistakenly marked as spam.
    Figure 6.9

    Figure 6.9 Outlook 2003 (shown here) and Outlook 2007 offer vastly improved anti-spam tools over previous versions of the program, including conservative and aggressive sensitivity settings.

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Last Update: November 17, 2020