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How to Really Keep Your Inbox Free From Unsolicited E-Mail Minimize

Introduction:

If you're as sick as I am of getting junk e-mail in your mailbox, you'll want to pay attention to the tips in this article on how to kill the beast for good. First, we'll look at how "they" got your email address in the first place. Then we'll look at some common myths and half truths. Finally, we will look at a few solutions that still have potential, starting with some methods that are effective but not complete and ending with the ultimate solution.

The first thing you need to understand about unsolicted commercial email is how the spammers got your email address in the first place. You may think you know this information already, but you might be surprised at some of the ingenious ways email addresses are collected. Of course, there is the tried and true method of scraping web pages for email addresses. If you have any email address on any web page, chances are, some spammer has collected that email address. The other common way of collecting email addresses is when you buy something. Most online purchases require an email address. Most of these are reputable places. But, make sure you read the check boxes that ask you if you want to sign up for the newsletter. Many times these check boxes are asking if you don't want the newsletter.

But, my email address isn't on the web anywhere and I always make sure I check the appropriate check boxes and I STILL get SPAM!

Well, let's assume for a second that this statement is true. There must be some other way email addresses are being collected. Actually, the email isn't being collected so much as it is being guessed. You see, SPAM is essentially a game. A nasty game, but a game all the same. We try to avoid getting junk mail and the spammers keep finding ways of sending it to us. And now, there is really no need to collect email addresses. It is a pretty simple matter once a domain is known, to write a program that sends mail to every possible email address at that domain. Sure, some will bounce as undeliverable, but automation is a wonderful thing and the program can deal with the bounce backs just as easy as it can deal with "guessing" the email address to being with.

Myths and half truths:

If you spend any time at all researching the problem of junk mail, you will recognize some of the classic advice.

1) Don't publish your email address.

2) Hide your email address using javascript.

3) Use a picture to display your email address instead of plain text

4) Use special HTML characters instead of plain text when displaying your email address on the web.

While these may have been effective in the past, you should recognize from the discussion above that these techniques are useless in the current fight against spam. They don't need to even see your email address on a web page. Besides, with the exception of the image, it would be a relatively simple matter as a programmer to harvest your email even if you embed it in javascript or if you use special html characters.

What really works:

In the fight against junk mail, there are various programs that have been developed to detect junk mail coming into a mail server, and while none of them are perfect, the two I use almost exclusively have cut my junk mail down to a manageable level.

SpamAssassin is a tool that is available on most mail servers on most web hosting companies. Ask your support guys if they have it installed. If they don't you should move to a company that does. You can activate the SPAM filter for the entire domain and override the default settings on a per email account basis. When you set it up, you can configure it to reject anything that looks like junk mail, tell it to mark email that looks like junk mail with a prefix in the subject line, or sometimes send the spam to another email address. For my business accounts, I have mine setup to mark the subject line and then I have a rule setup in my mail client to put the email in the junk mail folder. Once a day, I review the junk mail to verify that no mail I wanted got in the folder and then delete the junk folder. Very seldom to I find a mail message I really wanted that SpamAssassin marked as junk mail.

I've used many email clients over the years. Hey, I've been on the Internet since Al Gore invented the Internet! For a long stretch, I avoided using Outlook because it was so susceptible to email viruses and worms. But, when Outlook 2007 came out, I made the switch back to Outlook. Why I did that is another issue. But, one of the things I've discovered is that the Outlook junk mail filter is actually pretty good. Between outlook and SpamAssassin, I hardly ever see any email I didn't really want.

The ultimate solution:

As you can imagine, even with the spam filters, I still see some spam. So, for everything that isn't a business account I've implemented what I call, "Everything is spam," solution. Short of turning off my computer and never connecting to the Internet again, which I can't afford to do because the Internet is paying my bills, this is the best solution I've been able to come up with yet.

Here's how you set this up.

First, configure SpamAssassin so that you are filtering at the lowest threshold possible. ie, tell SpamAssassin that everything is spam. Next, use the White List feature of SpamAssassin. All implementations of spam filters have a white list and spam assassin is no different. In the white list, add all of the email addresses of the people you want to get email from. This way, even if they send you an email that looks like spam, it will get through to you.

This is actually a lot less work than you might think. The alternative is to setup a black list for all the spam you get, and the spammers change their email addresses so often that you'll eventually give up the fight. On the other hand, you have a finite number of people you communicate with regularly via email, and if you forget one of them, their mail will bounce with a message telling them it looked like spam. At that point, they can pick up the phone, or instant message you. You'll then add them to the white list and they can resend the email.

As a business person, you may not be able to entirely rid yourself of junk mail. But, these tips should go a long way toward reducing the amount of spam you have to deal with every day.

Dave Bush provides Web Hosting services at My Win Hosting to Windows hosting profesionals.

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