Fight the Spam

A blitz of junk messages could be threatening your productivity. Are you doing everything you can to protect your e-mail and blogs?

January 1, 2010

Chances are your business doesn’t employ a full-time spam administrator, which isn’t to say you and your computers couldn’t benefit from one. The onslaught of unsolicited bulk electronic messages—both e-mail and blog comments for those who maintain blogs—threatens the productivity of real estate pros who can get bogged down screening and deleting junk communications. Spam is also a leading source of computer viruses (never open attachments from unknown senders), which can bring your operations to a halt if you’re not careful.

Indeed, the growing onslaught can make spam prevention seem like an unwinnable, Sisyphean struggle. Spammers sent a record 100 billion messages around the world last year, according to Google, with the total volume growing by 1.2 percent every day. For small businesses, the unwanted e-mail slows down computer servers, potentially delaying all incoming and outbound messages. Ferris Research, an information technology consulting company based in San Francisco, says that spam and related computer viruses cost U.S. businesses $42 billion last year in lost productivity. But there are steps you can take to reduce, if not eliminate, your vulnerability.

Lose the @

Powerful computer search robots are crawling through text on the Internet looking for Web pages that contain the @ symbol so they can store the e-mail addresses typically associated with that symbol. You may unwittingly be putting yourself at risk simply by listing your e-mail address on your site. The simplest solution is to replace the @ symbol with the word "at." For example, becomes johndoe at, explains Todd MacMillan, ABR®, GRI, an associate with ERA Woods Real Estate Group in Lexington, Ky., who handles technology issues at his brokerage.

Limit Online Fun and Games

Problems can stem from companies that buy lists of e-mail addresses and then sell them, says MacMillan. Seemingly legitimate online activities such as Facebook’s popular surveys and quizzes can trigger spam. When you consent to the application’s terms, the site provides the application developers with access to your e-mail address; they in turn may generate spam themselves or sell your information.

Guard Your Inbox

Major e-mail providers including Gmail, Hotmail, and AOL have dramatically improved their spam filters in recent years. However, if you’re receiving a disruptive level of unwanted communications, effective Web-based antispam solutions are available. Shane O’Gorman, e-PRO®, a sales associate with Eau Claire Realty Inc. in Eau Claire, Wis., recommends Google’s Postini.

"Postini is the best out there. You can easily integrate it with an existing e-mail service." Postini is also the favorite among technology bloggers in the Active Rain online real estate community as it combats spam, viruses, phishing (fraudulent Web addresses in e-mails), denial of service, and other attacks. For about $15 a month, Postini will monitor your e-mail through its gateway, preventing spam from ever reaching your inbox. (Traditional antispam filters simply divert suspect messages to a designated e-mail folder.) If you prefer to install software, SpamFighter Pro works well for around $25. McAfee and Norton also offer solutions.

Protect Your Blog

Blogs have also fallen prey to spammers. So-called "comment spam" are responses from automated robots that link to commercial Web sites and have no relevance to the blog post. Most spammers don’t even care if users click on the links but are creating them to improve their own search engine optimization. Here are ideas from the Center for REALTOR® Technology’s Chris McKeever that can help.

  • Require a login. If you don’t have the time to pore through all of the comments before users post them, requiring users to sign in can reduce blog spam.
  • CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart). When a site asks you to type in a certain word, it is trying to verify that there is a person on the other end, rather than an automated spammer. A free solution is available at
  • Software filters. Akismet ( is an automated service similar to Postini but for blog commenting systems.

Katherine Tarbox is a former senior editor with REALTOR® Magazine. Previously, she was editorial director for Washington Life. She is the author of the international bestselling book A Girl’s Life (Dutton, 2000) and has made hundreds of media appearances including The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and CNN.