Richard Wermske

stop spam

What you can do to minimize spam? Why try?

Ronald Coase, a Nobel laureate, suggested that it is particularly dangerous for the free market when an inefficient business--one that cannot (or will not) bear the costs of its own activities--distributes those costs to the at-large population.

Why is this so dangerous? When millions of people each suffer only a small amount of damage, it often is more costly for each individual victim to recover the small portion of the harm allocable to them. Thus, the larger population will continue to bear those unnecessary and detrimental costs until their individual damage becomes so great that those costs outweigh the transaction costs of uniting and fighting back.

Spammers are counting on this principle of economics: they hope that if they steal only a tiny bit from each of millions of people, very few people will bother to fight back.

Stay anonymous.

Spammers use email robots called mailbots to collect addresses from newsgroups and the Web. You can outwit them. Never add your address to Internet email directories. When you're on the Web, leave the email address field in generic Web forms blank, or supply a decoy address. (There are now thousands of websites that offer free email accounts; here's a complete list .)

For especially delicious spam redirection, give the email address of your least favorite online company -- e.g. webmaster@[insert company name here].com.

Picture of Uncle Sam with a fly swatter.Confuse spammers by using two email accounts.

Make one your primary account that you give out to friends, family, and colleagues. Use the other account for mailing lists, newsgroups, or Web forms. If your ISP doesn't provide a second address at no charge, get a free Web-based email account.

Scramble your address.

If you post public messages to newsgroups or Web discussion boards, you can limit the amount of junk sent to you by practicing address munging (also called spoofing). Adding extra characters or words to your outgoing address confuses mailbots. You can make the change in your email application's preferences. If your real address is joe@isp.com, a scrambled version would be joe_spambait@removethis.isp.com .

Be sure to add instructions in your signature file that explain how to decode your address so you can receive legitimate replies, but don't include your actual email address because mailbots scan the contents of all posts.

Screen the spam.

Your email software's filtering tools can block unwanted messages automatically. Here are some things you can set your email filters to look for:

  • If a message doesn't include your correct email address in the To: or Cc: field, trash it.
  • Take note of the domains that frequently send you junk mail, and block messages coming from them.
  • Delete messages with subject lines in all caps (Tell your friends to avoid leaving Caps Lock on.) and messages with a lot of dollar signs or exclamation points.
  • Filter out messages that contain a subject line with typical spammer lingo like "make money fast."

You can add much stronger antispam powers to your email application with a spam filter such as the one provided by Airstream Communications.

Never respond directly to junk mail.

A reply verifies to the spammer that your email address is active. If you're riled up enough about it, complain to the ISP that hosts the spammer. Figuring out where junk mail originated can be tricky, however. Open the message and look for IP addresses or domains within parentheses in the header's Received lines (information outside the parentheses could be faked), then verify them using SpamCop .

Once you've identified the most likely culprit, use SpamCop to report it or visit the Network Abuse Clearinghouse for the appropriate contacts , and send a message requesting that they help stop spam coming from the offending domains.

How to keep your email out of spam filters

Legitimate messages that get snagged by spam filters can lead to big problems -- such as derailed job searches, hard feelings, and lost business. These tips will help ensure that your messages reach their intended targets.

Most spam filters use a scoring system. Each offense has a value. The higher the sum of a message's offenses, the more likely a spam filter will reroute the message (or not delivered at all). A lone offense usually isn't enough to flag a message as spam; it takes a combination of violations to score high enough to meet the level of true spam. But the system isn't perfect, and sometimes overzealous filters flag legitimate messages as spam. Applying the following do's and don'ts will help you ensure that your legitimate messages pass the spam filter test and reach their intended Inboxes.

Do: curtail your excitement

Specific words and phrases are the number one hook for spammers, and that makes them the best tool for catching spam. Discussions of large sums of money and amazing breakthroughs top that list. Offering a money back guarantee or a way to save money — Why pay more? — may be part of a legitimate offer, but it will set off spam alarms. Your message might excite you, but multiple exclamations points will also excite spam filters. All uppercase characters might convey your enthusiasm, but they'll also set off spam filters. Just using the word urgent is enough to put a spam filter on alert.

Avoid using words and phrases that trigger spam filters. You don't have to memorize a long list, just visit a few of the Web sites that maintain lists of spam keywords. Use the phrase "spam keywords" in your favorite search engine and you'll get plenty of hits. Look for current lists, as the keywords are updated regularly. It's okay to share good news and special offers with associates and clients. Just bypass all the hype.

Do: use plain text

An email that consists of all HTML or all images and links will trip a spam alarm. HTML is certainly okay, as long as it's good code and it doesn't comprise the entire message. Sloppy HTML code is also an easy giveaway for spam.

Go ahead and use good HTML code but also include as much plain text as possible. That's a clue to the spam filter that the email is legitimate. Besides, you'll want to accommodate recipients who choose to view the message in plain-text format.

Don't: include attachmentsImage of Smokey Bear Only You Can Stop Spam

Avoid attachments when possible. Spam often contains destructive attachments, so filters tend to overreact to an attachment. Links are a better alternative, if feasible.

Do: check your sender score

A sender score grades your reputation as a sender. Your average business or personal account probably isn't going to learn much from this score. Businesses that rely on frequent email campaigns will. If that includes you, check your sender score often and be proactive about repairing damage. A bad reputation can result in email being filtered, regardless of content.

Don't: send spam!

If you maintain a large list, for marketing — for any purpose really — make sure the members of your list want your email. Sending spam will get your domain and your business blacklisted and it's difficult to get off those lists. Once you're on a blacklist, most spam filters will snag your mail, regardless of its content. Remember, your reputation is important as your message.

Note: Exchanging business cards is not an invitation to send spam unless that condition is made clear during the exchange.

Don't: use colored fonts

Black type seems boring, but in truth, it's easy to read and looks professional and clean. Don't be fooled into thinking that colored fonts will create eye-catching opportunities to promote your message. They might, but they'll also excite spam filters.

Do: test your recipient list

When you send an email or newsletter to a list, test the message in as many client applications on as many operating systems as possible. Simply send the message to yourself or to a test account and retrieve it on several machines using different operating systems and email clients.

Don't: use the word test in your test message

When testing an email or newsletter, don't use the word test in the subject line. Most server filters will snag the message, regardless of the message's content. You'll waste time trying to fix the content when that single word may be the culprit.

Do: compose a succinct subject

Your subject line should be as specific as possible. Smart filters assume that spammers can write a reasonable subject line. What they'll lack is detail. The more specific your subject is, the better. For example, the subject Tomorrow's Project Meeting is reasonable but generic. A better subject might mention the time, the meeting room, and so on. Don't go overboard, but include details if possible.

Do: rely on professional experts

For most of us, a legitimate message that's snagged by a spam filter can mean lost business or at the very least, hard feelings. These tips aren't meant for professional online marketing operations. If you're considering an online marketing campaign for your business, don't wing it! You could inadvertently damage your company's reputation. Hire a professional who specializes in online marketing to keep you on the right side.


The Buddha was precise in his description of Right Speech. He defined it as “abstinence from false speech, abstinence from malicious speech, abstinence from harsh speech, and abstinence from idle chatter.”

— rich wermske

©2003-2017 Richard Wermske