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Tips and tricks - About Email and Spam



 

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Tips, META TAGS, Copyright, Security, Cpanel, Ensim Pro, Secure Email, SSL Certificates

WHY DO I GET SO MUCH SPAM MAIL?


The answer to this is simple. There are bazillions of low-life spammers out there who believe it is their right to send you SPAM whenever they want. It is estimated that over 60%*** of all internet email traffic is SPAM! This is a shocking statistic and negatively impacts on us all. It is getting so bad that many people now want nothing to do with the Internet because of it. If you have a website this may sound like bad news. However, there are effective ways of dealing with the SPAM issue. As a responsible webmaster, you must ensure that you become part of the solution and not the problem.

*** [2013 update] When I wrote this originally in 1999, 60% was about right. The latest estimates put the total of ALL email traffic on the web at 97%! How did we even get there? This is shocking.

There are a number of ways spammers harvest your email address. Here are some of the more common ways:
 

SOURCES OF SPAM - REGULAR PEOPLE


Message boards

This has got to be the number 1 favorite! Spammers have automated software that follows each and every link on a message board looking for email addresses. When you sign up at a Message Board, make sure you set your email address to Private! (It differs on various Message Boards but most have this option. If the Board software does not allow this, don't join it!)

Also, check the board's privacy policy. If they don't have one, write to the owners and ask. They must give you assurances that they do not sell email addresses. Believe it or not, there is money to be made in selling "targeted" lists of email addresses. Some message board owners make bug bucks selling your email address to the spammers! For example, some companies pay up to $0.50 per email address. Take a message Board with 3,000 members that's $1,500 each time he sells the list (Oh yes, some sell the lists over and over so you land up on not one but hundreds of SPAM lists!!).

Guest Books
The same rules apply to guest books as to Message Boards. Never put your email address in a guestbook unless the email address is either "munged" (obfuscated) or not made visible to the general public. Again, check with the owner of the guest book first before you reveal your email address to the world.

Forwarding email
Do you regularly get jokes and interesting articles sent to you by friends? Do you forward these to all your other friends? What do you think your friends do? Yeah, right, they forward them too, and so do their friends, and so do their friends, and so do ... get the picture? Now, here's the $64,000 question. Do you clean up the email (remove the email addresses of the people before you) before you send it? Do the friends you send it to remove your email address? Yeah, right that's what I thought. ;)

What this means is that within minutes, your email address could be in the inbox of thousands of other people you don't know from a bar of soap. If only one of them is a spammer your email address is toast!

"But my friends are not spammers" you might say. Man! Have I  got news for you! First, no spammer goes around with a banner on his back saying "Kick me, I'm a spammer". Spammers are your colleagues, secretaries, friends, teachers and even family! They come from every walk of life. They don't think (some don't even know) what  they are doing is illegal (Oh yes, SPAM is illegal by the way. People can loose their jobs and even serve time for for it). Most believe it's OK because they are running a little business on the side making a few bucks every month.

An interesting story. I recently set up a sting on a "friend" I suspected was a spammer. I set up an email address at hotmail and then forwarded him some "cool jokes" to him from there. Within 24 hours the hotmail email address was being spammed by tons of junk mail.  I later discovered, the hotmail address had been sold (along with hundreds of others) to over 400 SPAM mail companies! Some friend!

Bottom line. Don't forward jokes and other "interesting" stuff to everyone in your address book. It will get you on SPAM lists. Guaranteed.
 

YOUR BANK, YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY ... PLACES YOU TRUST!!

Today [May 2013] I unsubscribed from my persona Bank's "specials" newsletter. This after many years of more junk than anything I would actually want to purchase. To my astonishment, when I unsubscribed, I saw several "affiliate" codes (which I looked up); only to realize my bank had passed on my email to at least a dozen other companies selling everything from camping gear to sex toys. The only reason I can think of that makes sense is they did so because they got paid by each company they sold my email to. Is that not tragic? Even pathetic? Don't they make enough money aslready?

SOURCES OF SPAM - PEOPLE WITH WEBSITES


This is actually a wide topic and we could discuss it for days. Primarily, these are the main sources:

Webmaster address on Site
The best advice here is DON'T DO IT. Don't put your email address on your site as a clickable link. Spammers use automated software to spider your whole website looking for these. It's a dead give away. It is a sure way to get tons of spam chop-chop! If you absolutely must do this, change the site email address regularly when the spam gets too much.

Instead of an email link I recommend you use a form (but be careful. See below) where people can email you from a form on your site.

Form Mailers
These are a mixed blessing because they can be just as useless as having your email address on your site for the whole world to see. Here's why:

If you use one of those cute little bots in Microsoft Front Page or one of the bazillion free PHP or Perl form mailer scripts out there, chances are you are no better off than if you had simply put your email address in caps on your website like so: MY EMAIL ADDRESS IS ME@MYDOMAIN.COM PLEASE SEND ME SPAM! You see, most of these bots and scripts actually keep your email in a hidden field embedded in the HTML document. It may not be visible to the Browser, but it sure is to the spam-bot that will come snooping around your site.

If you use a form, make sure, your email address is not stored in the form itself - hidden or otherwise - but in a directory on your web server that is not accessible from the outside world.

WARNING ON USING FREE FORM MAIL SCRIPTS:
While on the subject lets just touch on this. Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you download and install a free mailer script from just any site you find. You could be getting yourself into a whole heap of trouble. (We have a free one that is secure in the Downloads section - link on top of page - although it is not the easiest one to set up) This is how it happens:

You download a badly written Perl or PHP script from some unknown source. Unbeknown to you, this script is not secure. This means that any spammer with a little knowledge can hijack the script on your server to send spam to others! Ouch!! Thousands or even millions of spam emails (often porn) can be sent out FROM YOUR SITE IP ADDRESS before you realize what's happened. (BTW, your first hint that something is horribly wrong is usually when the FBI come knocking at your door with handcuffs to take you away. No kidding, you can get into very serious trouble).

Bottom line: Never, but never use server-side scripts or software from sources you don't know or trust.

Registrar records
Every domain registrar requires you give a valid email address when you register a domain. Whether you register it yourself or a Web Hosting company like us does it for you, it will be your email address in the registrant field. Yes, you guessed it, spammers regularly check the new domain registrations to pick up fresh email addresses. (Actually they love the ones from the registrars because the know they must work).

Here's a good solution that works. When you register your domain name, give an email that is not your primary address and only use it for your domain name. After 6 months, discontinue that email address and get another one to use for the registrar. In most cases this will fix the problem and you won't get spam again. (If your hosting company wants to charge you to change your email address at the registrar drop them immediately because this should be a free service).

As of 2010, Webnet77 offers free private registration for all domains types (except for some like ccTLD's -- country level Top level domains like .us or .co.uk etc. -- where it is not permitted) included with the purchase of any package that includes a free domain.

Common email addresses
When you have your own site, don't use email addresses like WebMaster, WebServant, admin, postmaster, Mdaemon, MailerDaemon, root etc. What spammers do is to send email to these and see if the bounce. If they don't you have been made and will be spammed. Always choose email addresses that are less conspicuous. For example john-jones instead of john, WebmasterX instead of Webmaster and so on.

Catch all and aliases
In your site Administrator Control Panel (you should have one of these if you have a website) you should be able to set up email aliases. Normally there is a predefined "catch-all" email alias already defined. Delete it! What catch-all does is to forward Anything@yourdomain.com to you. it was handy in the early days of Internet but nowadays it's a liability.

DO NOT use a catch-all address. make sure it is set to :fail: (not :blackhole:

Auto responders/ Vacation messages
Whatever you do do not put autoresponders on your email addresses. Not only is it annoying for people who send you legitimate mail to get a "Thanks for your email. We'll get back to you" message it's a sure way to get SPAM! When the spammer gets a message back he automatically knows he has a valid email address.

Bottom line, don't set up autoresponders.
 

DO'S and DON'TS

If you get an email you don't want and it has a link at the bottom to click to unsubscribe yourself from the list DON'T! All you are doing [in most cases] is confirming your email address to the spammer and not getting yourself off the list. If you really think the list is genuine do the following:
  1. Subscribe a bogus email address.  You should get a message like "Thank you for joining..."
  2. Unsubscribe it. You should get a message like: "We are sorry to see you go..."
  3. Unsubscribe it a second time. You should get a message like: "Error. Can't find email address in database..."

So here's acid the test: Any unsubscribe link that always says "Email address removed..." regardless of how many times you unsubscribe is lying!

Here is a dummy list (scroll down the page until you get to Online Demo) we set up for you to test how the subscribe/unsubscribe should work.

  • Sign up a bogus email address and then unsubscribe it twice to see what you should get.

Bottom line:

  1. Never unsubscribe from a mailing list you don't know. You will only be confirming your email.
  2. If you really want to unsubscribe, follow the steps above with a dummy email address first.
     
SPAM ASSASSIN

1. First, you need to make sure Spam Assassin is turned on. In cPanel, you do that from Mail -> Spam Assassin -> Enable.
2. Next, you need to make sure you either discard mail tagged as spam or Change the header to add something like ****SPAM**** at the beginning of the header which you can use on your local mail client later to filter all spam to a special junk folder.

Spam assassin is powerful yet very few know hot to use it correctly. Here is the list of the tests performed by Spam Assassin. You can make your mail really robust by changing the weighting of these rules and in most cases, eliminate virtually all spam that is sent to you. You can enter new rules in your control pane from Mail -> Spam Assassin -> Configure Spam Assassin
SEE ALSO
Tips, META TAGS, Copyright, Security, Cpanel, Ensim Pro, Secure Email, SSL Certificates
 


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