Spam Slayer: Spam Fighting Tips for the New Year
Tip of the MonthBeware Tsunami Frauds and Viruses: Scammers and virus writers are riding the tsunami, too. A new virus is spreading that's disguised as an appeal to help tsunami victims. Clicking on an attachment infects you with a worm that tries to carry out a denial of service attack. Delete relief appeals that arrive in your inbox. If you want to support the tsunami relief effort, give money directly to the charity of your choice. The U.S. Agency for International Development offers a list of charities. And remember, keep your virus definitions up-to-date.
Things change fast in the spam world. That's why we spam slayers need to stay nimble to keep pace with rapidly adapting spammers and new virus threats. Nobody expects a lull in the spam onslaught in 2005.
Avoid Using E-Mail: IM Instead
Time spent resending e-mail that was lost in a mountain of spam, or accidentally identified as spam manually by the recipient, or zapped by an over-zealous spam filter can cripple personal and business communications. Consider asking an associate or friend to use an instant messaging client to swap short missives. Instant messaging is an effective alternative to the imperfect e-mail medium.
Be Prudent With E-Newsletters
Signing up for electronic newsletters is sometimes an invitation for unwanted e-mail from advertisers. Be prudent about who you give your e-mail address to. Better yet, using a Really Simple Syndication reader is a great alternative to newsletter clutter in your inbox.
Along with breaking-news headlines from online versions of many publications (including PC World), RSS feeds can deliver everything from industry-specific news and weather alerts to listings of new arrivals at your favorite record store or auction gallery.
Try the free program Feedreader to get started. If you use Mozilla's Firefox browser, consider its Thunderbird, a stand-alone e-mail client with a built-in RSS reader. And as for content, Feedster offers a directory of available feeds.
Strive for Inbox Efficiency
You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but you can often judge an e-mail by its subject line. And important messages with uninformative or vague subject lines can get lost in crowded inboxes.
One way to rise above the e-mail din is by providing short, specific information in your subject line: for example, "Please Call Me ASAP: 555-555-5555" or "Proposal is in the Mail." This shorthand keeps you from blathering and gets your message across to inbox scanners who seldom open their e-mail.
Inboxes are typically in a state of chaos, cluttered with once-important messages that are now nowhere to be found. To tame your inbox and sort the e-mail gems from the spam, try using one of a growing number of free desktop search tools.
Desktop search offerings such as Terra Lycos's HotBot Desktop, as well as Google Desktop Search and MSN Toolbar Suite each create searchable indexes of your e-mail. In just a matter of seconds, you can find that long-lost e-mail from your boss about the promised bonus you never saw.
Leverage the Power of Free E-Mail
Some Web-based e-mail systems like Google's Gmail and Yahoo's Yahoo Mail allow you to configure your client-side computer software to retrieve messages from your Web-based account. The advantages are twofold. First, you can read and compose your messages offline. Second, you can take advantage of powerful spam, virus, and phishing filters.
I can use Microsoft Outlook Express to retrieve prescreened Gmail. The downside is that I must log on to the Gmail service directly to check my Junk Mail folder for legitimate e-mail that Gmail blocked.
You don't have to use Outlook Express; Gmail works with a variety of e-mail software programs, including Eudora and Apple Mail. It's easy to set up Gmail forwarding to your client. First, log on to your Gmail account. Next, click the Settings link, then select the "Forwarding and Pop" tab and follow the configuration instructions. With Yahoo Mail, you must activate server-side spam filtering for POP access so you don't get inundated by spam.
Resolve to Fight Spam
Unlike many other New Year resolutions, this one requires only a modicum of willpower to keep. If you've ever wanted to fight spam more actively than simply hitting Delete, here's what you can do: Become a spam cop.
E-mail security hardware vendor IronPort Systems maintains a reporting service called SpamCop.net. SpamCop depends on a community of people who diligently report spam when they get it. That list of spam messages helps create the SpamCop Blocking List used by many e-mail filters. You need only sign up at SpamCop.net to become a reporter. The next time spam lands in your in-box, simply forward the message to a SpamCop e-mail address.
It may give you solace to know you're doing something proactive to fight spam. However, be aware that even if you contribute to the SpamCop Blocking List, you still have to cough up $30 a year to SpamCop if you want to use its filter to block spam from your inbox.
Here's to a less spammy 2005. Keep your fingers crossed.