I see a lot of people asking for spam every day.
Yes, I see people asking for spam.
It’s like they’re putting a large sign on their virtual backside saying
“Spam Me! Please!”
Oh, they don’t realize that they’re asking for spam, and if you asked them
if that’s what they want, they’d probably say “No, Definitely Not!” in the strongest of
terms. And yet, I’ll claim, strongly, that they’re doing so. Perhaps not
intentionally, but they’re asking for it.
In a previous article I asked How many email addresses do you
need? and outlined my multiple-address solution to begin to stem the tide
of spam, and at the same time start prioritizing the flow of incoming email.
But all of that is for naught if you make any of a number of apparently common
Posting your email address unadulterated in a public
I’ve written about this out at Ask Leo! –
Why shouldn’t I post my email address in a public forum? – because I see it
happen there several times every day. People place their unmodified email
address into the body of a comment they post on the site.
The problem is that anything that puts your email address on to a publicly
visible web page will cause you to start getting more spam. Lots more spam.
Spammers visit all the web pages that they can, and collect anything that looks
like an email address, and then they start spamming them.
Are you a member of a mailing list that has an publicly visible on-line
archive? Spammers will get it. Does the site you’re posting a comment on ask
for your email address, and then re-post it in clear text? Spammers love that
Before you post anywhere be sure you know what’s going to happen to your
email address when you do.
There are three possible solutions:
Don’t specify or include your email address. That may not always make sense,
since you may actually be attempting to provide your email address to the
non-spammers that read wherever you’re putting it. But it’s hard to spam an
email address you never supplied.
Use a fake address. Many comment forms (including my own Ask Leo! comment
forms) require an email address. Put in a fake one. It will prevent legitimate
people (like me!) from contacting you, but it will also prevent spammers from
doing the same.
Obfuscate your email address. If you are attempting to supply a valid email
address for “real” people (not scumbag spammers) to contact you, obfuscate it.
As I said, spammers use tools that scan for things that “look like” an email
address … so make yours not look like one. Two approaches I use, for example
askleo at gmail.com
Both simply requires that you, as a human, read what’s there, know that it
should be an email address, and do the appropriate translation. You’d realize
that the ” at ” needs to be replaced with “@”, or you realize that the
“.seeohem” really means “.com”.
The biggest drawback to these approaches is that the email links are not
clickable. But anything you can click on to get an email address, the spammers
can use to harvest it.
Not opting out.
Installing software or signing up for a web service is getting to be quite
the ordeal. I don’t know about you, but I certainly have a tendency to say
“yeah, yeah, whatever” as I skip reading the lengthy (and boring) license
agreement, and zoom through the various options I’m offered – I just want the
software, so install it already!
If I do that, I’ve probably just asked for more spam. OK, ok,
technically it’s not spam, as we’ll see in a minute. But I did just
say “Please send me more email – lots of email – please.”
Many vendors are taking advantage of the length of the signup and install
process, coupled with our impatience, to include options that, by default,
cause us to get more email. If you’re not paying attention you could well be
signing up for a lot of email and not just form the vendor you’re dealing
Pay careful attention to the next signup or install you do. Look for phrases
like “Notify me …” or “Share my email address with partners…” or anything
that sounds like an invitation for the vendor or their partners to contact you
in the future. In many cases it’s checked, or on, by default. If you don’t pay
attention, and just accept all the default answers, you are explicitly giving
the vendor, and possibly anyone they care to share with, permission to send you
I’ll say that again: you are giving them permission to send you more
Spam is defined as “unsolicited commercial email”. By giving them
permission, you removed the word “unsolicited” from that definition. Anything
they send you is technically not spam. Why?
Because you asked for it.
Pay careful attention to what you’re signing up for. Check all the
options in the signup process, and look for those checkboxes that given the
vendor permission. Look Carefully! Many are “check this so we can send
you more email”, while others are exactly the opposite “check this to stop us
from sending you mail”. And many are hidden, sometimes off the bottom of a
scrolling list and not even visible by default.
Using your email address unadulterated on Usenet.
My wife gets way more spam than I do.
And it’s all my fault.
Way back when, before I knew better, I used her email address to post on
behalf of her business on a Usenet newsgroup. In fact, proving that things
never disappear on the internet, you can see that post from nearly 10
years ago, here. While Google has (properly) obfuscated the email
addresses in the header and in the post today, but the address was out there on
the Usenet for all the world to see in its bare nakedness.
Yes, I asked for spam, on behalf of my wife. (Sorry, dear.)
The problem is that unless you’re using something like Google groups, you
need to configure your newsgroup reader (Outlook Express, Thunderbird and many
others) to access newsgroups. And what do each of those configurations ask
An email address, of course.
Don’t do it. Or at least, don’t use you bare naked email address. Obfuscate
it somehow. (This is actually where I started using the “.seeohem” method I
mentioned above, since an email address cannot have spaces.)
When you make a post on Usenet, or other Usenet-like newsgroup facilities,
your email address is posted in the header of the Usenet posting, much like in
email, as who the post is “From:”. Spammers once again scan Usenet for From:
lines that look like email addresses.
Usenet use is, in all likelihood, on the decline in favor of web based
discussion groups and email mailing lists. But even so, as my wife will attest
to, a single error can have long lasting ramifications. If you do use a
newsreader or newsreading function of a program such as Outlook Express or
Thunderbird, take care how you configure it.
Is it Too
So you’ve been using your email address for some time. Perhaps your spouse
mistakenly used your unadulterated email address in a Usenet post. In any case,
you’re getting spam.
Is it too late?
Yes and no.
First off, it’s never to late to keep the problem from getting
worse. If you keep making the mistakes above, you will only increase your spam
Avoid those mistakes, if for no other reason than that.
Also, as I’ve outlined that previous article you should have more than one
email address. By avoiding these mistakes from the start on any new email
address you create, you can avoid or at least reduce the amount of spam those
accounts will receive.
But whatever you, don’t ask for more spam.