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    Five Ways to Jam the Spam

    by Alan Zisman  (c) 2003 First published in Columbia Journal ,  December 2003

    For many of us, email is the most-used application on our computers, for some, the best reason to have a computer at all.

    But for too many of us, the last year or so has seen our email inboxes flooded with junk mail: messages offering us cheaper mortgages, larger body parts, erotic video clips, and the chance to earn millions bringing money out of Africa. Other people, however, seem to get few if any spam messages.

    A couple of things make a difference. People who get a lot of spam tend to fall into one of two categories. One group consists of people who have posted their email address on the Web. Many of the hundreds of articles I’ve written are online, and a lot of them include an email address so people can contact me. “Spambots” wander the Web, looking for “@” characters, “harvesting” the words surrounding them as likely email addresses, and sending them off to potential spammers.

    (Don’t worry about typing an email address into an online form for a valid purchase—there’s no evidence that these end up resulting in spam, though you may get some junk mail from that particular vendor).

    Also spam-bait are people with addresses at some of the mega-popular email providers: Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL, etc. These services don’t provide spammers with your addresses; instead, spammers often do mass mailings to lists of randomly generated names:, etc. If you get too much junk mail on one of these accounts, ditch it, and apply for a new one. Use a hyphen, dot, or underscore to combine two names or words, add a few numbers: will get much less spam, at least for a while.

    It’s an urban myth that clicking a spam message’s Remove link will get you more spam. It won’t, but it won’t help any. Viewing spam messages, however, is often all it takes to confirm your address to the spammer. Try to delete them without previewing or viewing them.

    The good news is that spam-filtering software has gotten much better, and now can be used to successfully filter out well over 90 per cent of the junk aimed at your mailbox. There are a couple of ways to make use of these:

        ◦    If you get email through a large network, such as a business or organization, your network administrator should be making use of a network spam filter. If you’re getting a lot of spam at work, ask your network administrator to do something about it!
        ◦    Vancouver-based Uniserve is a local Internet Service Provider that is now filtering email to all its customers, weeding out spam and viruses. Hopefully other ISPs will also start to make this a no-extra-cost service.
        ◦    Hotmail and some of the other large web mail providers are offering spam protection to their paying customers. Ironically, they may be happy that the spam deluge motivates people to drop their free service for fee service.
        ◦    Many new email programs now include built-in spam filtering, including the Mail program built-into Apple’s OS X operating system, and the Outlook version in the new Microsoft Office 2003 (oddly, with filtering set ‘low’ by default). The new Eudora version 6 includes spam filtering, but only in its paid incarnation. And Mozilla Thunderbird ( is free, and does a good job of importing messages, address books, and settings from your current email program.
        ◦    If you’re otherwise happy with your current email software, a number of add-ons can provide spam filtering. Both Symantec/Norton and McAfee have new anti-spam equivalents for their popular anti-virus programs, and there are a wide range of free add-ons as well. Check my spam tutorial (

    With any of these spam filters, be sure to check the filtered-out messages periodically, All sometimes accidentally filter out legitimate messages. 

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan