By Jeff Vedders

Your in-box is flooded with the latest offers of unbelievable mortgage deals and fantastic weight-loss products.  It seems harmless– just hit the delete key if you’re not interested.  You throw junk mail away at home, right? 

Many people equate spam with junk mail, but there are a few important differences.  You do not pay for junk mail delivered to your house; rather, direct marketers pay for the postage and materials.  However, you, the recipient, pay for spam.  You pay for online Internet access.  In fact, $1 to $2 of your monthly fee is used by Internet service providers (ISP) to fight spam.  Another difference is that junk mail will not prevent delivery of regular mail, but spam can prevent you from getting legitimate e-mail.  The sheer number of spam e-mails can fill up your mail box and even crash mail servers. 

Why is there so much spam?  Since spam is so inexpensive to send, spammers buy large lists of email addresses and send to everyone.  Because there are more costs involved in sending out materials through the postal service, marketers are forced to target their messages to a specific audience.  Not so with spammers.  Why would they spend the time targeting their message when it costs the same to send spam to everyone on the list?

Spam is becoming a huge issue, and it may even threaten our use of email within the next year or two. It was even the topic of a recent Federal Trade Commission conference.  Courtesy of the online edition of the Wall Street Journal, here are some startling statistics on spam:

  •  As of April 30, 2003, America Online blocks 2.3 billion spam emails daily.
  • According to market-research firm Ferris Research, U.S. corporations spend $9 billion annually to fight spam.
  • BrightMail, a spam-blocking company, reports that 41 percent of the 40 billion messages analyzed each month qualify as spam.
  • According to eMarketer, 76 billion spam e-mails will be delivered in 2003.

So, what can you do to prevent getting spam? 

  •  This sounds contradictory, but one of the main things you should never do is reply to a commercial email you receive and ask to be taken off their list.  This just confirms your email address as valid, and it is likely to be sold again and again.
  • Two of the biggest culprits are message boards and chat rooms.  If you sign up for these services or post messages, make sure you don’t use your regular email address.  You may want to create a new email address just for these purposes.
  • Try to limit the number of times your email is listed in public.
  • Be very careful when giving out your email address.  Make sure you read the small print when it comes to privacy statements.
  • Don’t buy anything that is advertised in spam.  This just legitimizes spam.  If you feel the need to buy a product you see advertised, don’t respond via the message.  Instead go directly to the company’s web site.
  • Try to avoid common user names like jdoe.  You may want to create a unique name like jde24ty7.  This will help prevent dictionary spamming where a spammer sends email to different spellings of the same name, i.e. jdoe, sdoe, mdoe, etc.
  • You may want to create a username with a letter later in the alphabet.  Many of the lists that are sold are sorted in alphabetical order, and the spammer may be stopped before it gets to the letter r.
  • Contact your ISP and report the spammer.

Unfortunately, you will never be able to prevent all spam from getting through.  There are several third-party spam-prevention software products available that will work with your email program.  Some are better than others.  You may also want to contact your ISP.  They may offer spam-blocking services as part of your account.