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Spam MeBy Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 25, 1997
I know I'm having a bad e-mail day when the only messages I get are pitches for multilevel marketing schemes, bogus weight-loss plans or, most ludicrous, ads for programs to help me to launch my own commercial e-mail blitzes.
If much of this junk mail didn't appear to come from morons with little acquaintance with the laws of mail fraud and computer crime -- or at least a spell-checker -- it might be tolerable. But as is, I'm sick of the whole thing -- especially since these people are using my disk space, my connect time and my processing power to shove their message down my inbox.
Unfortunately, this spam epidemic (the term comes from the Monty Python sketch in which a couple's attempt to order breakfast leads to the waitress reeling off a lengthy list of Spam-based entrees) doesn't seem to be slowing. But with a little effort, you can keep your e-mail program from becoming a dumping ground for every tacky pitch out there.
HOW TO AVOID MAKING YOURSELF A TARGET
Most bulk-mailers appear to extract their address lists by trawling public spaces online -- newsgroup postings, personal Web pages, online services' member directories -- for e-mail addresses. Without turning yourself into an online hermit, you can make it harder for them to find you.
SCREENING YOUR MAIL
The single most effective thing you can do to stop junk mail is to filter it out of your mailbox. But you need a program that does automatic filtering -- so if you're using Netscape, Microsoft Internet Mail and News or Microsoft's hideous Exchange for your mail, you need to change programs. Fortunately, you don't need to spend money. The free version of Qualcomm's Eudora (download) offers powerful filtering and is available for Mac, Windows 3.1 and Windows 95. Similar filtering capabilities are available in the $60 Pro version of Eudora, as well as Claris's Emailer (Mac, $50) and the less-capable, but free, Pegasus Mail (Mac, Win).
At a minimum, you can have all mail from specific addresses or domains routed directly to the trash, which will take care of repeat offenders. You can also auto-trash all messages with certain phrases, such as the "!!!" so prevalent in the subject lines of junk e-mail. The most effective solution, however, comes after you've gotten a handle on the patterns of your mail. The one identifying characteristic of almost all junk mail is that individual recipients' addresses (i.e., yours) don't appear in a message.
But the same pattern holds true for electronic mailing lists and customer-service messages from your own ISP, so you need to tell Eudora to let those messages by. Then, in Eudora's "Filters" window, create a new filter; in it, have the program transfer messages that don't contain your e-mail address in any recipient header to the trash.
If you use AOL, you don't have the option of using Eudora -- but, after years of inadequacy, the service now provides decent filters of its own. For one thing, it automatically blocks mail from known spammers, a service called "preferred mail." You can also block mail from specific addresses or domains (keyword: Mail Controls) or choose to accept mail only from certain addresses.
SLAMMING THE SPAMMERS
Sending unsolicited bulk e-mail violates the acceptable-use provisions of most Internet providers' contracts and is usually grounds for account termination. But first you need to report the spam to the offender's Internet provider. It should be simple: Just forward the spam you received, with a polite note indicating that you received unsolicited commercial e-mail, to that provider's postmaster -- postmaster@ domain.com, where domain.com is whatever domain appears in the return address of the junk mail. (Some providers, such as AOL and Earthlink, have a special "abuse" address -- email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org -- for complaints of this sort.)
Unfortunately, many spammers fake the visible headers of their messages. To get around this, you have to look through the headers that usually aren't displayed by e-mail programs. Select your e-mailer's "show headers" command (for instance, in Eudora click the "Blah Blah Blah" icon at the top left of a message window) and look in the Message-ID: and Received: headers. The domains you see there are probably where the spam originated; send your complaints to the postmasters at those sites.
Much spam these days, however, comes from "rogue sites"; you'll know you're dealing with one if your complaints go unanswered or are rejected. In that case, you need to shift your attention to whoever sits "upstream" of that site -- whatever Internet provider gives that site its link to the rest of the Net. Here, things get complex. The "Get That Spammer!" Web page provides a good set of tools to track down spam sites, as well as instructions on how to use these utilities.
Please don't send spam to email@example.com.
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