Spam

Most of us receive spam every day. Unsolicited bulk messages are sent indiscriminately; primarily through email, but also by way of instant messaging spam, spam in blogs, mobile phone messaging spam, junk fax transmissions, and many other forms. Where did it get its name, you ask?

It was named for Spam, the luncheon meat, by way of the Monty Python sketch shown above, in which spam is included in almost every dish.

Apparently, a "conservative" estimate is that spam makes up 80 - 85% of all of the email in the world. Most spam is commercial advertising (often for dubious products) and get-rich-quick schemes.

One of the biggest problems with spam is that it's so easy to create. Let's say you know a great trick for losing weight quickly. You send out an email to 100 people with a subject line that reads "I know the secret to losing ten pounds fast!" and you put a link in the email to your fitness website, on which you offer the information to people for five bucks. Out of the 100 people to whom you sent the email, two of them pay the five dollars. You've just made ten bucks. You now realize that if you send the email to 1000 people you might make $100. If you send it to 1,000,000 people, you could make $100,000. Now you begin to wonder where to get your hands on one million email addresses... and that's not hard to do. Does it seem a bit far-fetched to you? If so, think again - companies pay for lists of email addresses all of the time.

Spam lists are created by purchasing lists of email addresses from companies, stealing Internet mailing lists, or simply finding email addresses online.

Spamming remains economically viable because there is no cost for the advertiser (where as the unlucky receiver pays for it through their internet usage and/or mobile phone costs) and it is difficult to hold the sender accountable for their mass mailings.

More than just a mere annoyance, spam is commonly used to spread computer viruses or for the purpose of identity theft. How do you know what you're opening, and what it might do to your computer?

How do you stop spam?

Once your email address is on a spam list, there's not a great deal you can do. Spam filtering software can be effective - the simplest filters use words like "sex" and "viagara" in the subject line to help identify and delete spam. However, some of your "real" emails might not get through - if your friend sent you an email with a recipe for chicken breasts, the word "breasts" might send that innocent email straight into the trash bin.

Padlock

If filters don't help much and you're still being flooded with spam, consider changing your email address. If this isn't possible (eg. you have 2500 business cards out there with your current email address on them), keep marking the spam mail as junk and deleting it out of your inbox and trash. At least this way, you can block spam addresses that have contacted you before. Most importantly, don't open spam mail and definitely don't open any attachments.

Consider opening another email account to use when you register for products online and for giving out to companies when requested... that way you can check it periodically to see if there is anything legitimate in there you want to see, and clear out the junk. In the meantime, your "real" email addresses are kept to personal and legitimate business use.

The best way to avoid spam is to be extremely careful about handing out your email address. When registering with a company online, be aware of the almost-hidden statements such as "Please unclick this checkbox if you would like to not receive emails from our partners". Isn't that sneaky? These checkboxes are often easy to miss, and their wording intentionally tricky. If you miss it or answer it incorrectly, just like that your email is added to a spam list... which soon spreads to many spam lists.

We personally believe that joke emails and chain mail (send this to ten people within 24 hours or blah blah blah) are a form of spam... emails created to minorly amuse and majorly clog up the internet. Do your part in cutting down spam on the internet and tell the joke in person, instead of sending unsolicited email to people you know.