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Dealing with email spam

Computer Tutor: John Lucas


In today’s computer world, we have a new kind of spam, not the canned precooked meat product most of us have tried at one time or another. It is called email spam. While exact definitions may vary, it is generally agreed that spam is unwanted electronic junk mail sent in bulk from senders, called spammers, whom you generally do not know. Symantec, a major supplier of anti-virus and security software, reported in 2011 that spam accounts for 73 percent of all email traffic.

According to a 2004 National Technology Readiness Survey, “78 percent of online adults receive spam daily and 11 percent receive at least 40 such messages. Of those, 14 percent read spam they receive. Four percent of online adults said in the past year they purchased a product or service advertised in spam — that's almost 7 million people propping up peddlers of herbal Viagra and the like.”

Most consumers would agree that spam is annoying, time-consuming and sometimes costly, so here are some practical tips in reducing and dealing with spam:

1. Do not give out your email address to just anyone.

One of the easiest ways for spammers to get hold of your email address is if you give it to them yourself. Although it may seem almost second nature to enter your email address before making a purchase at an online store, commenting on a blog, or downloading a new application, you shouldn't give out your email address to just anyone.

Check privacy policies on websites and mailing lists. Trustworthy companies and listservs (mailing lists) will have a link to their privacy policy on their websites. Read through the policy to find out exactly what the web or listserv administrators plan to do with your information before you give them your email address.

Watch out for default options and checkboxes. When you sign up or register online for some services or products, you might be presented with check boxes that offer to send you email announcements or special offers. These options are usually pre-selected by default, so if you aren't interested in receiving these kinds of notices, remember to uncheck them before you continue.

2. Set up a separate email account for commercial and social networking.

Consider getting a “dummy” or “decoy” email account from a free email service (Hotmail, Yahoo, and Gmail are a few) to siphon off spam from your primary personal account. Use this decoy to sign up for mailing lists, shop online or join social networking sites.

3. Use a spam filter.

Most email programs are equipped with spam filters that automatically sort out the spam from your incoming mail. However, these filters are not 100 percent foolproof. A filter can sometimes misidentify a legitimate email as spam, so you should go through your spam or trash folder every once in a while to make sure that you haven't missed any important messages.

4. Do not open or respond to spam email.

If you come across a message that appears to be spam, it probably is. Don't respond to the email — responding allows the spammer to verify your email as a legitimate address. Instead, report the message as spam to your site administrator. (Most web-based email programs have a linked option to let you report any incoming message as spam.)

Next month’s topic: Protecting Yourself from Phising-a malicious form of email spam.

John Lucas is the owner of Your Computer Tutor, which provides personalized home computer instruction and technical support for both Macs and PCs in the Portland metro area. A retired teacher with a master's in library science, Lucas welcomes questions about common computer issues. Reach him by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .