Protect Yourself from Spam
If you've been on the web for any length of time, you've probably already come across spam. "Spam" refers to junk mail, what some companies euphemistically call "Unsolicited Commercial Email", "Targeted Email" or other honey-coated expressions. Needless to say, those companies are the ones doing the spamming. If you own a site. the increase in spam you will experience is pretty much proportional your site's popularity. More visitors = more junk to wade through.
Don't dispair, there are many things you can do to ward off this mass of spam.
What's Wrong With Spam?
Maybe nothing, if you are the kind of person who has a very high tolerance for irrelevance, and plenty of time on your hands. But 95% of all spam is for MLM and pyramid marketing schemes of very dubious legality, schemes that guarantee to turn your few meager dollars into millions. Interesting, isn't it, that the supposed millionaires who have used the techniques to such success need to spend their time and money sending you an incredibly poorly worded letter full of misspelled words, fractured grammar, CAPITAL LETTERS and an incredible number of exclamation marks!!!!
The other 5% of spam relates to useful or at least wholesome products and services, whose owners have been tricked or misled into believing that the Internet is a mass market populated by idiots with one-digit IQs, just waiting to send their cheques to a PO Box in Mexico.
Personally, I side with the majority, who feel that spam wastes time, obscures the real email to your site (I get 100+ emails a day across 6 sites, of which 10-15 are real and the rest are spam) and costs you money (if you pay for your Internet connection)
Where do Spammers Get Their Information?
Before you can beat spam, you have to understand how, and more importantly where, spammers get your email address from.
Spammers suck up email addresses from just about anywhere you can imagine. As soon as you post an article to an USENET newsgroup, you run the risk of having your email address vacuumed up by one of the many automated programs spammers use to compile victims' email lists... Promote your site on a What's New page, a free for all list or indeed just about anywhere and the spammers will get your email address. Post to a mailing list, and they're already lying in wait for you. Nowadays, spammers use automated systems to constantly collect email addresses, 24 hours a day and 365(6) days a year!
This poses a bit of a dilemma... the only way to avoid getting spammed is to remain "invisible", but invisibility is the last thing you want when you are trying to raise the profile of your site!
Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to stem the tide of spam...
Free Email Addresses : A Great First Line of Defence
As we've seen, spammers go straight for the jugular of your email address. Well, what if you don't give them YOUR email address? That way, they won't be able to send you email!
All you need to do is sign up for one of the many, many free email services that are provided by just about all major sites. I suggest that you sign up with an email forwarding service.
Email Forwarding Services
An email forwarding service will give you a new email address. All email that is sent to your "new" email address will automatically be forwarded to your existing email account. That way, you can filter out the spam!
If you are using an email package such as "Pegasus Mail" or "Eudora", it is very easy to set up a filter that will direct all mail sent to a certain email address into a separate folder. If you make it a practice to use ONLY the free email address when you are publicising your site to the outside world, you should find that most spam gets filtered out and ends up in this separate folder you set up.
Then once a week or once a month, or whenever you feel is appropriate, you can delete the contents of that folder and all the spam is gone. It is worth taking a look from time to time at the email in there, in case somebody has sent you a genuine comment about your site. But at least with this system you won't find that your normal email address gets buried under a landslide of spam!
I advise against using this free email address on your actual site, even though putting your real email address on your site may bring you some spam. The reason is simple: sadly, many spammers and con artists also hide behind the relative safety and obscurity of free email addresses, and so people who are familiar with free email services may feel ill at ease to see that the address on your site is a freebie.
Other Ways to Beat Spam
DON'T be tempted by the messages at the top or bottom of any spam, indicating "To be removed from this mailing list, send a message to xyz" or similar wording. Very occasionally you will get removed from that one particular mailing list (and the spammers have THOUSANDS!) but more often you will get added to a different spam list as a person who cared enough about the message to find out how to get away from it!
DON'T use the trick some people resort to on USENET or in other places of posting a "broken" email address together with instructions on how to fix it elsewhere on the page. For instance, "email@example.com Please delete the "nospam" to reply to this message." Guess what, when you're in a medium where zero attention spans abound, nobody is going to go through contortions to reply to you, even if they have a genuine desire to communicate with you.
DO use every filter you can think of. For instance, if you notice that many spam messages have the words "Make money fast" in them, you can program your email program to automatically delete all messages with that phrase in them.
A Final Word
In a sense, spam is a way to feel that you have arrived... that your site is known widely enough to attract the attention of these dastardly predators. But after a brief moment of satisfaction, take the initiative and fight back! It is much easier to set up rigorous anti-spam defences when you are getting five messages per day than it is to do so when you are getting 50 or 500! There is no putting the genie back in this particular bottle once your address is scattered across the Web.