March 11, 2005
 



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Posted: 02.22.05

From the Desk of Rita Kushnir: Drowning in Spam

Delete...delete...delete...delete. So many of us start our day by getting rid of unsolicited e-mails. I generally browse through approximately 8 to 10 spam e-mails in search of every remotely relevant message. First I’m being offered all sorts of wonderful medications without a prescription then I find out that I wasted four years of my life attending college when I could’ve downloaded a diploma from a much better school, for a nominal fee, right off the Internet. But who cares about these lost four years when, according to the next e-mail, I just won $100 million in the lottery?
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By Rita Kushnir




Usually, you can tell by the subject line whether the message is spam and you instinctively delete e-mails with questionable titles without even having to read them. Lately, however, spammers have acquired a little creativity and the e-mails carry subject lines, such as “you forgot to call yesterday” and “your statement is ready.” I admit to have fallen for these numerous times. Consequently, I have also deleted some of my real credit card statements without opening them first.

Until recently, I've pretty much ignored spam, accepting it as something inevitable and exploiting the delete button. When I started working at Mobile Enterprise and my e-mail address was posted on the Web site, the volume of spam has become overwhelming. I started researching this topic on the Internet hoping to reduce the amount of time I have to spend going through unsolicited e-mails every day.

It turns out that there are more ways for spammers to get a hold of my e-mail address than I wanted to know about. They use efficient robot-like programs that scan Web sites and message boards for e-mail addresses and generate mailing lists. Basically, if your e-mail address is posted on a Web site or a forum that is indexed by a search engine, they have it. Another popular source is the Web forms. Virtually every registration and purchase form on the Internet asks you for your e-mail address and is often accompanied by at least one checkbox that asks whether you'd like to receive information and offers of some sort. Of course, legitimate companies won't give away or sell your e-mail address but sometimes it's hard to tell with businesses that are not well known. Even if these companies don't intend to reveal your information, spammers use techniques to trick mailing servers that are not super secure into disclosing the mailing lists.

A good way to hide from spammers is to use disposable e-mail services such those provided by Mailinator and Sneakmail . I have tried both and found them very efficient and simple to use. For Mailinator, there is no need to create an account. You simply create a [email protected] address, on the fly, whenever you need to provide an e-mail address. When this address receives a message, your Mailinator account is created. You simply go to Mailinator.com, enter the user name you made up and your e-mail is there! The account auto-expires in a few hours. This is particularly useful if you are giving your e-mail address to someone in the real world and cannot use another random e-mail generating service.

Sneakmail is different because it uses a forwarding alias to your real e-mail address. To use it, you create an account and bookmark it. When you need to provide your e-mail address, you open the bookmark and it generates an e-mail address for you. You will receive the messages arriving to the fake address at your real e-mail address. If you reply from your real address, your message will be rerouted to the original sender and your real address remains hidden. If you begin to receive spam via your Sneakmail e-mail, you know where it's coming from because Sneakmail remembers where it has been used and you can delete the alias so that it stops forwarding spam to your real e-mail. There are many other services like these, with even more functionality, that can help keep your permanent e-mail address private.

Of course, using these services alone won't keep my inbox completely spam-free, but if I can even reduce the “refinance your home” and “earn money online” offers by a quarter, I will be happy.







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