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Slice your spam by protecting your primary e-mail address

November 9, 2001 

Since it's invention by Mr. Sears in the early part of the 1900s, junk mail has annoyed its recipients. With the coming of age of the Internet and e-commerce, it was only natural that junk mail would also become electronic.

Often called spam, (No, not the canned meat product SPAM), junk solicitation on the Internet originated on Usenet newsgroups.

While originally meant to describe any posting to a group that was off topic, the term spam now has grown into any unsolicited e-mail or group posting.

It shouldn't be surprising that commercial interests have discovered marketing possibilities in e-mail.

E-mail addresses are readily available on CD-ROM or may be harvested off Usenet newsgroups easily, and many bulk-mailing services have popped up around the Net.

ISPs have estimated that nearly $2 of a customer's monthly bill can be attributed to spam; but the biggest cost is perhaps the undermining of the consumer's opinion of the Internet and e-mail.

Many people's e-mail boxes are filled with spam daily -- so much spam that they may just close their accounts and leave the Internet with a bad taste in their mouths.

Spam degrades the quality of the Internet for many people because of the constant hassle of filtering through e-mail boxes, deleting the spam and finding the valid e-mails.

Spammers thrive on poorly configured (or in some cases, purposely configured) SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) servers called open relays.

Most SMTP servers use some sort of authentication based upon IP (Internet Protocal) address or domain name of the sender's e-mail to determine if relaying (the act of sending a message through an SMTP server to a person's e-mail box) is allowed.

Open relays, however, do not impose this obstruction and allow anyone presenting it with a mail message to use it to send mail, thus allowing a spammer to bulk message with slimmer chances of being caught or cut off by their ISP.

Most spammers will put some way for recipients to remove themselves from their e-mail list from within the spam message. This is a trick. Since a live human reading e-mail is more valuable than an e-mail that feeds into a program, responding to these remove instructions will sometimes only increase the amount of spam.

By responding to the message, you are verifying that you are there and the message was received.

The Federal Trade Commission has named its "Dirty Dozen" most likely e-mail scams:

Business opportunities

  • Bulk e-mail
  • Chain letters
  • Work-at-home schemes
  • Health and diet scams
  • Effortless income
  • Free goods
  • Investment opportunities
  • Cable descrambler kits

Guaranteed loans or credit on easy terms

Credit repair

  • Vacation prize promotions

This list and a description of each of the "Dirty Dozen" are available at (

Cutting the spam

Although there is probably no good way to combat spam once you're on the lists other than changing your e-mail address, you can minimize the amount of spam by operating two accounts. One account should be the normal account that is checked religiously. Like an unlisted phone number, never give this account out except to trusted friends, banks and other entities -- and request that they don't pass it on to others. I log the date and time that I give it out and who I give it to.

The other account should be a free account, for example, one with Yahoo. Give this account to contacts that requires an e-mail address. Whether requesting a catalog or downloading software, plug in this address. If I know that I will need something from it, like a registration code, I can log in and get it. Log in periodically. You can hit the "delete all" button. By protecting your main address, you will see much less spam.

Fred J. Tips III is a founding partner with Carrera Communications, a competitive Local exchange carrier that provides telecommunications services.

Fred J. Tips III. Copyright 2001 American City Business Journals Inc.

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