1. Stay anonymous. Browsing the web, using e-mail, and posting messages to newsgroups leaves you open to spam. Sometimes it seems that there's nowhere to hide from crafty junk e-mailers. But you can beat them at their own game. Spammers use e-mail robots called mailbots to collect addresses from newsgroups and the Web. Never add your address to Internet e-mail directories. If you find yourself listed in a directory like Bigfoot, ask to be removed immediately.
When you're on the Web, skip the e-mail address field in generic Web forms--or, if it's not crucial that the Web site have accurate information, supply a dummy address. And don't use your personal address in e-mail links on your Web pages. Let people contact you at a general address, such as [email protected]. You can also use a handy, free tool from SiteUp Networks called the Mailto Encoder ( www.siteup.com/encoder.html ).
Sneaky would-be spammers can also find and track you with cookies--text written to a file called COOKIES.TXT on your hard drive. Set your browser to reject cookies. In some cases, however, you must accept cookies from a site for it to work properly.
2. Throw spammers off by using two e-mail accounts. Use one to receive mail from friendly, familiar sources. Use the other account for mailing lists, newsgroups, or Web forms. If your ISP won't provide a second address at no charge, get a free Web-based e-mail account, such as Excite Mail.
3. Scramble your address. If you must post public messages to newsgroups or Web boards, you can still limit the amount of junk sent to you by practicing address munging (also called spoofing). If you add uncommon characters or words to your outgoing e-mail address, your posts will confuse mailbots. For example, if your real address is [email protected]., a scrambled version would be [email protected]. Be sure to add instructions in your signature file that explain how to decode your address so you can receive legitimate replies.
4. Screen the junk. Your e-mail software's filtering tools can dispose of unwanted messages automatically. (Filter setup varies depending on your e-mail app.) Some guidelines: If a message doesn't include your correct e-mail address in the To: or Cc: field, trash it. Take note of the domains that frequently send you junk mail and block messages coming from them. Delete messages with subject lines in all capital letters and messages with a lot of dollar signs or exclamation points. And filter out messages with X-rated subjects as well as spammer-speak like unsubscribe, X-priority, adv (for advertisements), bulk e-mail, authenticated sender, or make money fast. Boost your e-mail app's spam-fighting power even more with an antispam utility.
5. Never respond directly to a sender of junk mail, period. A reply alerts spammers that your address is active. Instead, complain to the ISP that hosts the spammer. Figuring out where junk originated can be tricky. Open the message header and look for IP addresses or domains within parentheses in the header's Received lines (information outside the parentheses could be faked), then verify them using Acme Address Digger ( www.blighty.com/spam/spade.html ). Once you've identified the most likely target, visit the Network Abuse Clearinghouse ( abuse.net ) for the appropriate contacts and fire off a polite but firm letter requesting their help in stopping further spam.
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