Why do I get so much spam and what can I do about it?

Spam (unsolicited email) is a huge problem for users, for email server administrators, for everyone except the spammers themselves.

First thing you have to know is that there is no way to make spam stop once it starts. So you have to prevent it from the beginning. You have to protect your email address.

Second thing you have to know is that anti-spam software you install on your computer or that is installed on your web email providers server is getting better, but it still doesn't work perfectly. It will classify some of your good email as spam, and let some of the spam through to your inbox. Deciding what is a good email and what is a bad email is a tricky job for a piece of software. You need to get in the habit of checking your spam filter for false positives every few days. And if you get a lot of spam it's pretty tedious. Best to keep spam from happening in the first place.

Prevention is key. When you first get an email address you must take steps to protect it from becoming a target for spam.

You start getting spam when your email address is added to a spam list.

Just how this happens varies.

The main way your email address gets added to a spam list is that it is sold or given away by someone you gave it to. This is where "privacy policies" come in. Before you give a company your email address, read their privacy policy and determine what they are allowed to do with your address. When you are filling out forms, make sure you always opt out of receiving email offers from that company or other companies they do business with.

Sometimes you are forced to provide an email address when using a web form, or signing up for something with a company. It's a good idea to make individual email forwarders for these situations. Spamex is a service you can use for this. Say you need an email address to provide in signing a petition, but you just aren't sure they won't sell your email address to a spam service. You can go to Spamex and create an email address that forwards to your real email address, and if you start getting spam through that forwarder, you just delete it! You can make as many forwarders as you need to make.

The other primary way your email gets added to a spam list is because it was posted on the web. There are actually software programs that search for email addresses by crawling the web. Don't ever post your email address on the web. It's tempting sometimes when posting comments in a weblog, a discussion group, or a similar site to include your email address so someone can get back with you. If you must post your email address, format it differently, like using [at] instead of the @ sign. This won't stop your address from being harvested, but it will have to be harvested by a person instead of being accessible to a robot.

You may be thinking, "I want my email address to be on my website and I want it to look normal. I don't care if I get spam." Okay, that's all well and good until your harvested address is used as the FROM address on spam. Yes, spammers don't need access to your email account to use your email address on their spam emails. This has happened to two of my clients who didn't worry about posting their email addresses. They had to shut down their email accounts right away, as thousands of spam email bounces ended up in their inbox. You don't want your email address to be harvested. Trust me.

It's a good idea to search the web occasionally for your email address. Search for your email address (in quotation marks) using Google. This will bring up every indexed instance of your email address that appears on a website. After you find out where your address is appearing, you can email the site owner and ask that it be removed.

When the spam coming into your inbox gets to be too much, you've really got no other choice, it's time to get a new email address.