Spam Primer: Help with Spam, Phishing, and Other E-Mail Pests

Who is Sending Spam

Spammers come in two flavors: everyday people who think everyone will welcome their message and send junk mail rather than use legitimate advertising methods, and sophisticated rings of criminals who are simply out to steal your money -- and take over your computer to increase their stable of "robots" to steal more.

Who is probably not responsible for the junk mail in your inbox: whoever is listed on the "From" line of the message!

Typically, if you reply to the mail to complain, your message will bounce back because the return address has been forged and doesn't actually exist (or, looking at the "From" address, it's obvious that it's fake). They do not care that you're irritated or angry, since they figure if even .01% of the millions of people they send junk mail to send them money for the advertised product or service, they're coming out ahead. They literally do not care about the other 99.99% -- yet another indication of the quality of the businesses that use spam.

Even worse is when spammers use the address of real people in the "From" line. They are thus forging real addresses, and who gets the bounces and complaints? People that had nothing to do with sending the junk mail. You may have experience with that already.

Thus, do not reply to complain: your message will not go to who sent it, and may go to a completely innocent third party. And even if it does go to the spammer, remember one thing: they do not care that you are angry! All you've done is prove your address is good (read: needs more spam!) and that you open your mail, including spams (thus you're a really good person to send more junk to!)

Thus the #1 Most-Important Thing to Know:

My most important advice, then, is never, ever, ever buy anything from someone who sends you unsolicited advertising by e-mail, even if the product is something you want! Many of these offers are fraudulent, and the advertising method is, by definition, underhanded, especially if the "from" address is forged. Why in the world would you want to give your hard earned money to people who would forge their return address, or make you pay to receive their advertisements that you didn't even ask for? Film critic Roger Ebert urged people not to support spammers by buying their junk in a speech in Boulder, Colorado. His plea is now well known as the "Boulder Pledge".

But more importantly, consider this: even if it's not a scam, by buying from a spammer you legitimize spam, and thus add to the problem. If only 1 recipient out of million messages buys from the spammer (and that is approximately the number), and you are one of those buyers, that pretty much makes you responsible for a million more spam messages coming into mailboxes -- yours and everyone else's. Is that what you really want? It is simply not worth it to encourage spammers.

Think of the corollary: If no one bought anything from spammers, they'd stop spamming -- it wouldn't be worth their effort if everyone ignored them. But since a very small percentage does buy, it encourages spammers to continue or even expand their operations, resulting in ever-more spam -- just like you've seen since you've been online. Thus, the major blame for spam is the people who buy from the spammers, making it profitable for the criminals to continue filling your mailbox with garbage.

Next Topic: How Spammers Get Your Address

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