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When Spammers Invade Your Inbox.....

Apr 28, 2009 by Sue LeDuc


Dread facing you inbox every morning?  Is it frequently clogged with SPAM?  Receiving SPAM email is not only bothersome, frustrating, and annoying at best
.....but, its a downright affront to good grammar and spelling!  

"SPAM" (Spontaneous, Potentially Annoying, Mail) refers to unsolicitated and unwanted email messages.   For the most part, SPAM is merely unwanted commercial email -
junk email - albeit at times, advertising some fairly
distasteful products.  Since the early 1990's, the amount of SPAM has increased steadily, even exponentially.  As consumers learn to ignore emails which promise to enlarge their bank account or anatomy, spammers (those who send SPAM) have become considerably less innocuous in their intent.  Of  late, a substantial volume of SPAM frequently
include computer viruses, malware linking to compromised websites, attempts to defraud its recipients,
pornography, offers to sell prescription drugs and the like.  SPAM increasingly is becoming the potential tool used in identity theft. 

Perhaps more objectionable than its content is the volume of SPAM.  On a daily basis, thousands of SPAM emails come into MHC.  Most are
instantly blocked by our mail servers running the latest versions of
anti-SPAM and anti-virus utilities.  Regardless of how up-to-date we
stay with the utilities and blockings rules, spammers are always
changing their methods, attempting to sneak through the blocking barriers.

Finding junk emails clogging your inbox every morning is a problem, no matter what they're actually trying to sell you. Whether you get 3 to 4 a day or 30 to 40, sorting through and deleting
these unsolicited emails is very frustrating and quickly becomes a gigantic waste of time and
energy.   But don't think for a second that you need to put up with it. 


There are less drastic steps you can take, and with a little bit of information and common sense, you can help slow down the flood of spam to just a trickle.

  • Use filters - Many email programs offer filtering
    capabilities that
    allow you to block certain addresses or to only allow email from
    addresses on your contact list.   If you do not already have filters
    setup, you may want to utilize the filtering options in your mail client.  Filters can be set on the system-side and on the mail client side.  In Thunderbird ( mail client), filtering is set up  under 'Tools, Message Filters'.  In Horde/Webmail (system-side), it is set up under 'Webshell, Spam Filters'. Some people are hesitant to use filtering, fearing that legitimate
    messages may be misclassified.  In the event that a message is
    misclassified, the College has set provisions for your review and
    retrieval by filtering them to special folders within your account
    ('maybe spam', 'likely spam' etc). For more information on filtering, log into Horde/Webmail, - click on 'Webshell' - then click on 'Spam Filter'.
  • Review your filters - If, over time, you see that too many legitimate emails are being sent to
    those SPAM folders, then you will need to adjust your filter settings.  In Horde/Webmail adjustments are made by changing the levels to a higher number.  Or if the opposite occurs,
    where not enough SPAM is being filtered, change the levels to a lower
    number.  Setting the numbers determine the threshold at where the
    'move' action is taken.  In Thunderbird, changes are made by editing Message Filters. 
  • Don't give out your email arbitrarily - Email addresses have become so common that a space for them is often included on any form that asks for your address...even in comment cards at restaurants.  It seems harmless; so many people write them down without realizing what could happen to that information.  Companies often enter the addresses into a database so that they can keep track of their customers and the customers' preferences.  Sometimes these lists are sold to or shared with other companies and suddenly you are receiving email that you didn't request.
  • Check privacy policies - Before submitting your email address online, look for a privacy policy.  Most reputable sites will have a link to their privacy policy from any form where you're asked to submit personal data.  You should read this policy before submitting your email address or any other personal information for that matter, so that you know what owners of the site plan to do with your information.
  • Be aware of options selected by default - When you sign up for online accounts or services, there may be a section that provides you with the option to receive email about other products and services.  Sometimes there are options selected by default, so if you do not deselect them, you could begin to receive email from those lists as well.
  • Never reply to a SPAM message and don't follow links.  Be suspicious of those which offer 'unsubscribe' links- Some SPAM rely on generators that try variations of email addresses at certain domains.  If you click a link within an email message or reply to a certain address, you are just confirming that your email address is valid.  Unwanted messages that offer an 'unsubscribe' option, although tempting, are often methods for collecting valid addresses that are then sent other SPAM.  Do not reply to the messages at all.  Spammers like to forge email - you cannot trust that the address in the 'From:' field is actually true.  Learn how to expand and view 'headers' within your mail client.
  • Disable the automatic downloading of graphics in HTML mail - the default setting for this option within Thunderbird is 'disable' but some mail clients are not set that way.  Many spammers send HTML mail with a linked graphic file that is then used to track who opens the mail message - when your mail client downloads the graphic from the their web server, they know you've opened the message.  Another way of preventing the auto download of graphics is to disable HTML view entirely and view your messages in plain text.
  • Consider opening an additional email account - Many domains offer free email accounts.  If you frequently submit your email address (for online shopping, signing up for services, or including it on a comment card, etc), you may want to consider a secondary email account and protect your primary email account from any SPAM that could be generated.  You should also use a secondary account when posting to online bulletin boards, chat rooms, public mailing lists and the like.  These secondary accounts can be easily disposed of if they become identifiable by spammers.
SPAM may seem as inevitable as death and taxes, but as noted above, by using email filtering, patience and common sense, there are effective ways to tackle the problem. 
(Credits:  Picture Detail from The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893)


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