Tech@Work: Steer Clear of Spam

January 1, 2001

If you’ve been active on the Web for a while, you’re probably getting more junk e-mail, or spam, than you care to. Unfortunately, it’s only going to get worse as the Internet grows.

When you’re in a hurry to check e-mail and must wait for 50 junk messages to download before you can read the one important e-mail you’re expecting, spam is quite an inconvenience. Worse yet is the risk of overlooking an important message because it’s buried in a sea of junk e-mail.

You’ll probably never be free of junk e-mail, but you can minimize its impact on your productivity.

Get a separate junk e-mail box.

Go to Yahoo! or Hotmail, both of which have spam-blocking technology built into their systems, and sign up for a free e-mail account that you can use to complete online forms and transactions. Then if you visit a Web site that asks you for an e-mail address, which it’s likely to sell to online marketers or add to its marketing lists, simply give out your junk e-mail address.

You can check the junk box once a week or so, just to see whether there’s anything truly interesting.

Never rat on your friends.

If you send friends, clients, and customers Web-based greeting cards, sign them up for online contests, or give out their e-mail addresses to Web sites for any reason, you’re turning them over to junk marketers.

‘Unsubscribe’ or not.

Most spam contains removal instructions so that you can presumably get off the sender’s list. However, with a disreputable Web site, requesting removal of your e-mail address may simply bring you more junk, not less.

Reputable companies can’t afford to go back on their word. So if a company such as Yahoo!, Amazon.com, or K-mart sends you promotional e-mail and you want off the list, go ahead and follow the removal instructions.

But if the spam comes from an organization that you’ve never heard of, usually selling products or services of dubious value, don’t reply. To do so verifies your address, enhancing the market value of your e-mail address. Your reply proves that your e-mail account is both valid and active, and your address will most likely be sold to spam marketers even more aggressively. In these cases, you probably can’t get removed, and that’s why spam is so frustrating. But there’s hope.

Sign up for a Web-based filtering service.

Many e-mail programs can help filter unwanted spam, but they usually involve an extra step. You have to take the time to install the software, which then downloads e-mail for analysis before you see it. The analysis process slows down your mail retrieval. (Antispam software analyzes e-mail for suspicious keywords and e-mail headers as well as known domains that send spam.)

However, new online filtering services are becoming available. Brightmail.com, for example, sells its service to Internet service providers and corporate clients, so it’s free to individuals. In addition, there’s no software to install. And if a junk e-mail slips through, you can forward it to Bright mail for analysis. So the filtering becomes more comprehensive as time goes on.

Although filtering doesn’t catch all incoming spam and slows down e-mail retrieval a tad, it offers some tantalizing benefits for users who are tired of the mind-numbing array of e-mail offers coming their way.

In addition to instructing GRI programs, Stephen Canale has spoken at hundreds of seminars in 45 states, covering subjects relating to real estate sales and technology. For more information on his products, newsletter, and seminars, visit www.canale.com.

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