Q: I didn’t seem to have much of a spam problem until recently, but now it is getting out of control. What can I do to fight this big waste of my time? — Paul
A: Spam, ham and meatloaf — the spices of online life!
Unsolicited commercial email (spam), real messages (ham) and jokes/hoaxes sent by well meaning friends (meatloaf) are the main groups of messages that all e-mail users receive.
When you first get started using an e-mail address, it is not known by very many people, so your chances of getting much of anything is pretty low.
But then you make an online purchase or post a comment to an online forum or start sending your new address to everyone that you can think of — that’s when the trouble begins.
All e-mail users should have at least two e-mail addresses; one for those they trust and one for everything else. Once you "publish" your e-mail address to anyone, you no longer have control of what happens to your address. So only give your private address to those you know you can trust.
When making an online purchase or posting to a forum or any other "public"’ e-mail activity, you should sign up for and use a "free-mail" account from providers such as Hotmail.com, Yahoo.com or Google’s upcoming Gmail.com.
Once the level of junk becomes unbearable on your free account, discontinue using it and sign up for another one — all the while, keeping your primary address protected from the masses.
Another big mistake made by new users is to respond to spam that claims it will remove you from the list if you don’t want to receive future messages. Not only will they not remove you, they have just gotten you to verify your address so that it can be sold to other spammers. If you have done this, get ready for the blitz!
Remember, if it’s spam, it’s probably a scam! If you did not personally subscribe to a service in the first place, then you have no reason to unsubscribe. Spammers don’t follow rules, regulations or laws because many of them are not U.S.-based, so once they get your address verified, it’s too late.
The reality of e-mail today is that it is impossible to avoid spam — unless you are willing to stop using e-mail altogether. Besides having at least two addresses, everyone should employ the help of a real spam filter that works in conjunction with your e-mail program.
An "intelligent" tool that can learn from your decisions of what is spam and what is ham is the best system that I have found thus far. On an average day I receive at least 300 junk messages, and on the weekends it can be twice as much, so I have tested many filters. I have found tremendous success from a free utility called SpamBayes (spambayes.sourceforge.net — do not use ‘www’) that is a plug-in for Microsoft’s Outlook (not Outlook Express).
Once you install the program, you "train" it to recognize the messages and associated patterns that you consider spam and ham. Once you get started, it deals with new messages in one of three ways: Leave it in the Inbox, move it to a "Suspected Junk Mail" folder or to the "Spam" folder.
Over time, you can teach it to be more accurate by moving misfiled messages from one folder to another.
Outlook Express users can use a somewhat technical process to take advantage of this excellent free filter by following the instructions at: datadr.com/redir.cfm/OEspam or install another free program from www.spampal.org.