Understanding How Spammers Work Can Save You Time And Reduce The Spam You Get

by: Balraj Dhaliwal

Nobody likes receiving spam and having to spend time dealing with it. Even with sophisticated filtering and avoidance mechanisms discussed in my previous articles entitled "Use A Spam Filtering Tool To Manage Spam And Save Hours Everyday" and "7 Steps To Effectively Take Control Of Your Inbox And Reduce Spam", these unwanted spam messages keep on appearing. By understanding how the system works, we can effectively take steps to significantly reduce the amount of spam that we receive daily.

What we have to understand is that email marketing is by far the most effective way to promote products and services on the internet today. The basis of this system it to collect as many email addresses as you can and repeatedly send email messages out to them. There is a legitimate way to do this and then there is the way spammers do it.

The legitimate way is to collect email addresses only from people who volunteer it to you on a website in return for some information that you offer. In addition to this every email sent out must include a link or instructions on how to unsubscribe. I would take it one step further and say that unsubscription must be instantaneous. Having to wait for a few days is unacceptable with the software tools available today. Following this method, you will only receive email messages that you have opted-in for and as soon as you are not getting any value out of it, you unsubscribe.

The spammers mode of operation is to collect email addresses by any and all means available. This could be by building software spiders to crawl websites 24 hours day looking for email addresses on any page. Usually they search for the HTML tag "mailto:" but as users have stopped hyperlinking in response, the spiders are getting more sophisticated and are putting together text like "john dot smith at domain dot com" into the proper valid email address "john.smith@domain.com". Some websites list all their employees contact emails on one page and is a prime target for spam. Harvesting guestbooks where emails are displayed is also a very common practice.

Other methods are more malicious and involve virus-like or worm software being installed on your computer and feeding the names in the address book back to a spam server that collects them.

Spammers trade email addresses for money. This is why the system is out of hand - it is an income producing activity. Every email address has a value to it and no matter how little the value, putting together a list of 100,000 can provide a neat income for a spammer. Most spammers have spam lists many times larger than this.

Spammers also include the unsubscribe link at the bottom of spam emails. These links when clicked and actioned, tells the spammers that this email address actually got through to a live person and that email address is now moved onto a much higher value list and is traded for more money. Those of us who have actioned these links have found the flood of spam coming in to vastly increase within only days.

So now to the question of how to use this knowledge to reduce the spam you get?

First, understand that everytime you give out your email address to a website, that it can potentally be sold and traded. Therefore, if you are unsure about it, use an email address that is not your primary one. Webmail services like Hotmail and Yahoo Mail are perfect for this. You only get the messages when you want them and log into those services. I've used a Yahoo Mail address for this for years now. Everytime I log in there are more than a thousand messages but the one that I want to look at is at the top. I never have to delete these messages, Yahoo takes care of it automatically. The only requirement is that I log in to the service within a set period usually 90 or 120 days to keep the account active.

Once you are comfortable that the site concerned is legitimate, you can then change your email address to your primary one. On the other hand, if you start getting spammed, then you do nothing, let the spam emails build up and get deleted automatically by the system.

In my article entitled "7 Steps To Effectively Take Control Of Your Inbox And Reduce Spam" I discuss an elegant way to safely give out email addresses and shut them down in case they get spammed. This is by far the most effective method that I have used.

Other things to watch out for?

Spammers are facing tougher times and they are finding it harder to get new email addresses. While this is a good sign that means the general public are getting more educated, it does mean that we have to be careful of where our email addresses are shown or advertised. For example, magazines and newspapers often are great places for a spammer to collect email addresses. This is a much slower method but if we think about it, these email addresses are of much higher value because somebody has paid money to advertise and so it is bound to be a real address. This means that we have to think laterally in order to stay ahead of the spam game.

Last but not least, we can surely help significantly reduce the problem by not responding to any spam email message whether it is by clicking on a link, replying to the email or unsubscribing using a supplied link. If you really must look at the site, just type in the domain name part of it into your browser and leave out everything after the domain name. This will take you to the site without the spammers tracking identification code.

Together we can surely put a dent in this system by understanding it and staying one or a few steps ahead of spammers.