Data Doctors: Take care when giving an e-mail address - East Valley Tribune: Business

Data Doctors: Take care when giving an e-mail address

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Posted: Sunday, April 13, 2008 2:58 am | Updated: 9:11 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Someone is using my e-mail address and other information to sign me up online for various groups, seminars, etc. Are there laws regarding this?

Q. Someone is using my e-mail address and other information to sign me up online for various groups, seminars, etc. Are there laws regarding this? - Jim

A. While there are various federal and state laws against e-mail "spoofing" and other forms of misleading or deceptive transmissions, the problem is tracking down and prosecuting the perpetrators.

In many cases, automated processes written by those who have less-than-noble intent are "scraping" your e-mail address from a legitimate source (a Web site, a forum, a blog or one of those infamous e-mails that someone sends to "everyone they know") and using it for their malicious purposes.

If you are getting e-mail from sources that seem legitimate that you've never signed up for, it is most likely the result of something that you subscribed to that had a side relationship with another group buried within the "I agree" page.

As a business owner, I am constantly barraged by marketing firms that claim that they have "clean" e-mail lists that only contain addresses of folks who have "opted in" to a list saying that they would be OK with being sent "special offers." The problem I have is that I have yet to meet anyone who has ever knowingly said they have approved some random marketing firm sending them "special offers."

The most likely causes of what you are describing are a rogue automated system that subscribed to a service using your address (in order to gain access to something else they were after) or your own actions of signing up for something and not fully reading the legal psychobabble agreement you were required to agree to in order to get what you wanted.

This is why we have preached since the beginning of the spam problem that you always have two e-mail addresses: one that you keep private and one that you use for all of the various sites that you make purchases on or register for or when you join a social networking group.

The Internet is infested with sites that have no other motive than to get you to sign up for something that seems legitimate but in fact is nothing more than a front to mine for e-mail addresses.

Unless you are paying very close attention to everything you ever do on the Internet, it's nearly impossible to keep your e-mail address from being manipulated by those who can profit from it.

If you don't have a second e-mail address, sign up for a free account at sites like Gmail.com (Google's free Web mail service), Yahoo.com and Hotmail.com (Microsoft's free Web mail service) and use it for anything that isn't important from now on.

If you are being sent newsletters or other correspondence from legitimate companies or Web sites that you recognize, you can usually be safe in clicking on the unsubscribe link located at the bottom of the messages. But be very careful not to unsubscribe from messages that are not from familiar companies, because this is often a tactic used by spammers to get you to verify your address so they can sell it to other spammers as a verified address.

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Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the "Computer Corner" radio show, which can be heard at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to evtrib@datadoctors.com.

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