July 11, 2009 — -- Spam is the bane of computer users everywhere, accounting for more than 90 percent of e-mail. And, now, cell phones are getting spam.
There is no foolproof solution to spam, but you can banish most of it. You'll find links to software and sites mentioned on my site at www.komando.com/news.
Your first line of defense is a spam filter. Filters screen incoming messages; spam is killed before it hits your inbox.
Good spam filters don't rely on sender information. Rather, they use Bayesian filters. These filters improve as you use them. I recommend a free filter like MailWasher, POPFile, Spamato, or SpamBayes.
Webmail providers usually have built-in spam filters. Make sure yours is activated. Tag spam that reaches your inbox to improve accuracy.
Choose e-mail addresses carefully
How do spammers get e-mail addresses? They buy mailing lists and harvest addresses from the Web.
You'll be surprised to learn that they also often just guess e-mail addresses. They use programs that combine simple words.
This means your e-mail address affects how much spam you get. Don't use a simple e-mail address like firstname.lastname@example.org. This is easily guessed.
Instead, add numbers, underscores and other characters. Include a hobby to make the address more meaningful. For example, choose email@example.com.
Watch the first letter of the e-mail address. Choose a letter that comes later in the alphabet. Addresses starting with letters at the beginning of the alphabet get more spam.
Some providers offer disposable addresses. Create an address for a specific purpose. When a disposable address starts receiving spam, kill it.
You can also create multiple accounts. Use one for friends and family. Create a second account to use for online banking and the like. Don't use them for anything else.
Spam-Proofing Your Life
Create another account for signing up for services and online shopping. When you see spam, drop the address.
Not all unwanted e-mail messages come from criminals. When you sign up for anything online, be careful. You may unwittingly be registering for newsletters and updates. Look for opt-out check boxes.
Also, be stingy with your e-mail address and phone number. Never post them online without obscuring them.
Don't give them to anybody unless you know who they are. That goes for the real world as well as online. Be particularly wary of online quizzes and the like. These can lead to spam or charges on your cellular bill.
Don't Bother Unsubscribing
Many spam messages contain an unsubscribe link. Ignore this. In fact, don't even open spam messages. They can infect your computer with malware.
Clicking the unsubscribe link simply confirms that your address is active. Instead, forward spam to the Federal Communications Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Legitimate mailing lists are the exception to this rule. Use their unsubscribe links.
Cellphone spam is relatively new. You may not be receiving any yet, but a proactive approach makes sense.
First, join the Do Not Call Registry. This will end most telemarketing calls. It will also stop companies from sending text messages to your phone. After 31 days, you can file a complaint if you're still getting messages.
The CAN-SPAM Act bans unwanted commercial messages on wireless gadgets. You can file complaints at the FCC's site.
Finally, check your account settings with your provider. Most spammers send their texts from the Internet. Your provider should offer tools for blocking messages sent from the Web.
Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about computers and the Internet. To get the podcast or find the station nearest you, visit www.komando.com/listen.
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