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February 02 Issue

How to stop unwanted emails
Michael Southon knows how to kill Spam

For years I didn't worry much about spam. But lately it's got out of control. Over half of my email is now spam, and it's growing by the week. Spam is now such a problem that I know people who have had to close down their domain name. This article offers some tips on how to avoid being buried under a mountain of spam.

How Do They Get Your Address?

In the old days, spammers got their addresses mainly from Newsgroups - if you didn't post to Newsgroups, you were reasonably safe. But they're now using a much more efficient method to build their lists - email harvesters. Email harvesters are robots that roam the Internet collecting email addresses from web pages. Examples are EmailSiphon, Cherry Picker, Web Weasel, Web Bandit and Email Wolf, to name just a few. How can you protect yourself from email harvesters? By 'munging' (mung = 'mash until no good') or cloaking your email address. There are many ways of munging your address - the easiest technique is to use HTML code for the punctuation in your email address (instead of symbols). For the colon after mailto use : and for the @ symbol use @ and for the period use . With this method, my email address would become:
Your email address will appear exactly as it did before, and it will still be 'clickable', but email harvesters will ignore it and move on. There are also JavaScript's that you can insert into your web page that will make your email address visible to humans but invisible to harvesting programs. Here's one that works very well:

How To Fight Spam

The most important thing is never, ever, reply to spam. Most spam contains an innocent-looking 'remove me' email address. Do not use it. Here's why: Spammers typically buy a CD containing a million or so email addresses, but they have no idea how many of those addresses are active. So before beginning their marketing campaign in earnest, they send out a 'test message' to the entire list. The test message contains an email address for removing yourself. When you reply to that address, it confirms to the spammer that your address is active and therefore worth spamming. Worse still, the spammer may be distilling from that CD a list of confirmed active addresses that he will then sell to another spammer.
The key to dealing with spam is to report it to a 3rd party: (1) the affiliate program that the spammer is advertising, (2) the spammer's web host, or (3) the ISP the spammer used to connect to the Internet. When you report spam to a 3rd party, remember to be polite - they didn't send the spam and they're probably just as anti-spam as you are. (1) Reporting to Affiliate Programs Many spammers are affiliates advertising someone else's products or services. So look for a website address that contains an affiliate link, something like this:
Then just send an email to the affiliate program (, informing them that you are receiving spam from one of their affiliates. Most affiliate programs have zero tolerance for spamming and will remove an affiliate spammer without warning. Now, affiliate spammers don't want you to see their affiliate link, so many of them send their email as HTML.
All you see in the message are the words 'Click Here and Order Now'. But in your browser just click on 'View Source Code' and search for the letters 'http'. That will take you to the spammer's affiliate link. (2) Reporting to Web Hosts If the spam doesn't contain an affiliate link, it's likely that it is coming from the owner of the domain name. In that case you'll have to report it to the spammer's web host or their ISP. To make a report to the spammer's web host just go to Whois, the directory of registered domain names:
Type in the spammer's domain (the website address that appears in the spam) together with the extension (.com, .org, .net etc). The host for that domain will usually be listed as the Technical Contact in the Whois record and there will be an email address for contacting them. (3) Reporting to ISPs: To report a spammer to his Internet Service Provider, you'll have to look at the spam's 'extended headers'. Extended headers show the servers that the message passed through in order to get to you. The instructions for viewing extended headers will vary depending on what email client you are using. => In Pegasus Mail, open the offending message and then right-click and choose 'Show raw message data'. => In Eudora Light, click on 'Tools' in the top menu bar, and then 'Options', and then select the checkbox option that says 'Show all headers (even the ugly ones)' and click OK. => In Outlook Express, open the offending message, select 'Properties' from the File menu and then click the 'Details' tab. Reading and understanding extended headers is quite a detailed subject. Here's an excellent free tutorial on how to decipher extended headers:

As an alternative to these reporting techniques, you could use a web-based spam reporting service such as SpamCop ( SpamCop deciphers the spam's message headers and traces the mail back to its source. However, SpamCop is known to generate complaints about innocent third parties, and as a result, many system administrators ignore complaints received from SpamCop. There is one kind of spam that the techniques in this article probably won't help you with: spam from China. This is the most peculiar spam you're ever likely to receive. For example I regularly get messages from a certain ChenHua of the China-Lutong mechanical company asking me if I would like to order hydraulic heads for the VE distributor pump. Spam is not an issue in China so it's unlikely you would stop the spammer by reporting him to a 3rd party. However, while doing the research for this article I came across a web page that offers a very ingenious (though rather severe) solution to Chinese spam. The Chinese government recently ordered all ISPs in China to start monitoring email for subversive phrases. This anti-spammer replies to Chinese spam with a message that includes subversive phrases, such as "weapons and ammunition", "Falung Gong" and "Free Tibet". But I don't recommend you do this - the Chinese spammer could end up spending years in a forced labor camp. Even the worst spammer in the world doesn't deserve that. Good luck in your fight against spam!

© Michael Southon April 2002

Michael Southon is the author of the popular new eBook
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