Office of Information Technology

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What is SPAM?

It's not just for breakfast anymore! SPAM is a term commonly used to identify unsolicited and often unwanted e-mail that mysteriously makes it way to your inbox. The distribution of the same e-mail to hundreds, thousands and even millions of unsuspecting users is called spamming. And those individuals who force their message on people who would not otherwise choose to receive it are spammers.


How did I become a victim of spam?

Spammers have many tools and tricks that help them capture your e-mail address. Anytime you fill-out an online form that contains your e-mail address or post a message to a Usenet group you are taking a chance that someone may use your address for their marketing purposes. Software is available to spammers that surfs the web checking for html code that contains an e-mail address. If your personal or business web page contains an e-mail link like this: mailto:jane@anywhere.edu, you may be making it easy for spam software to collect your address for its database.


Why is SPAM so bad? I kind of like getting all those discount offers.

First, you can rely on the old saying, "If it sounds too good to be true it probably is." Often times SPAM mail contains offers for get-rich-quick schemes, dubious products and questionably legal services. Beyond that, some contain adult themes and outright scams. A New York court recently ruled that spammers would be subject to the same laws as those who commit postal mail fraud.

Secondly, the cost that is involved in sending out these advertisements is rarely felt by the sender, but is most often paid by the one receiving the message they never asked for in the first place. Here is how it works. A spammer sends out a message to 1,000 e-mail addresses every hour. Five hundred of those addresses are on the same ISP, let's say AOL. This means AOL's server has to handle 500 more messages an hour than normal. This may mean they must increase their hardware that manages the e-mail to handle the extra load forcing the users monthly cost to go up. In addition, if you pay your internet service by the minute, or have to pay a phone toll fee while you are connected to the internet your cost may go up even more. It takes approximately 10 seconds to identify and delete an unwanted message, plus the time it took to download the message. Multiply that times the number of SPAM messages you get per day and see just how much these discount offers are saving you.


How can I avoid getting SPAM e-mail?

There are many online resources for avoiding SPAM. Simply doing a search with the keywords "avoiding spam" will result in thousands of resources. Below are some tips to hel you avoid junk e-mail.


Step 1 Nip-it in the bud.

  • Don't give spammers a chance to capture your address. You might want to think about creating a"dummy" e-mail account through a free service like Yahoo! . When you fill-out forms online for free offers and to access free services, use the alternate account. Many times these are free because they are selling your e-mail address for a profit.
  • If your e-mail address appears as a link on many web pages related to your work or personal pages, you might think about changing that. Create a generic account within your company specifically for inquiries from the web. You might still have to wade through some junk mail, but at least it is not tangled in your personal account. Many web sites are also beginning to use e-mail forms rather than a link to someone's address. These are not as easily captured by the SPAM software.

**Attention AOL users: AOL makes it easy for spammers to collect your e-mail address. Simply entering one of AOL's public chat rooms posts your username for all to see. All the spammer has to do is add @aol.com and they have it. Also maintaining a member profile makes it easy for someone to search and collect your information. Best advice, delete your member profile immediately.


Step 2 Don't make it worse.

  • Many of these so called SPAM "newsletters" have links at the bottom of the advertisement that say something like, "Click here to unsubscribe to this publication." Most users are trusting enough to believe that if they follow the directions they will be released from this unwanted mail. The real truth is that on some sites when you try to "unsubscribe" from one of these ads you are actually confirming the fact that your e-mail address is a live account with someone on the other end. This makes your
    address more valuable for spammers to sell to other companies thus increasing your junk mail load.
  • Read the fine print. Most web sites that ask for personal information such as mailing or e-mail addresses have a link on their form to a privacy statement. Reading this may help you decide whether you want to give your personal e-mail or an alternate address when signing up.
  • Avoid using your personal e-mail account when participating in public auctions, bulletin boards, chat rooms and mailing lists. Many of these sites post your e-mail address for everyone to see or the automated web site creates a link directly to your e-mail address which can be captured by spamming software.

Step 3 Do some research.

  • There are many other resources on the web to help combat SPAM mail. Many instruct you on how to complain to the company. Others offer software or advanced techniques that protect your e-mail account. We are not recommending nor do we support any of the following methods referenced, but want to make them available to you for your investigation.