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Opening Pandora's In-Box

The Nation

In 1978, Gary Thuerk sent the first e-mail ad, to 600 people. Now, spam numbers in the billions a day -- at AOL, 80% of message traffic.

May 11, 2003|David Streitfeld | Times Staff Writer

* An alternative approach is to leave your real address on message groups but disguise it in a way that will fool spammers' address-collecting programs but not people who might want to contact you. The most frequent disguise is the addition of the words "no spam," so your address would read

"janedoe@nospam.isp.com." Experts are now suggesting something a little more creative would be even better.

* Keep your address off any public Internet directory, including your service provider's. Directories are a favorite source for spammers.

* Most ISPs let you restrict accounts so they receive only from screened "safe" addresses. This is particularly useful for children's accounts.

* Spammers often send their mail through "dictionary attacks," where they first try "doe@isp.com," then "jdoe@isp.com," then "johndoe@isp.com" and so on, through hundreds of thousands of permutations. When choosing a new e-mail address, resist the urge to make it as simple as possible and instead mix numbers into the letters, like 7jdo1e@isp.com. While this will be harder to remember, it is less likely to attract spam.

* Whenever you're asked to surrender an e-mail address at a Web site, uncheck any box that gives the site permission to sell your name.

* Many spam messages have links that you can click on to remove yourself from the mailing list. Some argue that clicking on these links will reduce spam, while others say it will only prove to the scammers you have a working e-mail address that they can then sell to other spammers. Until there's an answer to this question, it's best to proceed cautiously.

* With many e-mail programs, it's possible to disable the function that allows e-mail to come through with images. This greatly reduces the offensiveness of porn spam.

* For the more technically sophisticated, it is possible to buy many types of anti-spam programs that can be installed on your home computer. Reviews of these filters are mixed; none has won universal raves.

* Don't respond to spam, no matter how enticing it seems. Spammers have one goal: to get money from you. Anything that sounds too good to be true probably is. In a recent FTC investigation, 90% of business opportunity and investment spam contained likely false claims.

* Let your Internet provider or, at work, your information technology department know that you're plagued by spam. While they're all too aware of what's going on, additional feedback can only help.

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