Word to the Wise: How to reduce the amount of spam you receive

If you are like most consumers who have e-mail accounts, you probably have noticed an alarming number of unsolicited e-mails or “junk” e-mails showing up in your inbox. Many of these e-mails are often from people you do not know. Where do they all come from, and how can you reduce the amount you receive?

As the number of people online grows, marketers are increasingly using e-mail messages to pitch their products and services. These unsolicited e-mail messages are referred to as “spam.” Usually e-mail marketers purchase a list of e-mail addresses from a list broker, who compiles it by gathering addresses from the Internet. If your e-mail address appears in a news group posting, a website, in a chat room, or in an online service’s membership directory, it may find its way onto these lists and into the hands of scam artists.

The Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission suggest the following tips on how you can reduce the amount of spam you receive:

Try not to display your e-mail address in public. That includes newsgroup postings, chat rooms, websites or in an online service’s membership directories. Spammers may use them to harvest addresses.

Check the privacy policy when you submit your address to a website. See if it allows the company to sell your address. You can choose to opt-out of this provision, or refuse to submit your address to websites that will not protect it.

Read and understand the entire form before you transmit personal information through a website. Some websites allow you to opt out of receiving e-mail from their “partners.” Read the directions carefully if you want to opt out.

Consider establishing two e-mail addresses -- one for personal messages and one for newsgroups and chat rooms. You also might use a disposable e-mail address service that would create a separate e-mail address that forwards to your permanent account. If one of the disposable addresses begins to receive spam, you can shut it off without affecting your permanent address.

Use a unique e-mail address. Your choice of e-mail addresses may affect the amount of spam you receive. Spammers use “dictionary attacks” to sort through possible name combinations at large ISPs or e-mail services, hoping to find a valid address. Thus, a common name such as “jdoe” may get more spam than a more unique name like “jd51x02oe.” Of course, there is a downside -- it is harder to remember an unusual e-mail address.

Use an e-mail filter. Check your e-mail account to see if it provides a tool to filter out potential spam or a way to channel spam into a bulk e-mail folder. You might want to consider these options when you are choosing which Internet Service Provider (ISP) to use.

If you receive unwanted or deceptive messages, send a copy of the spam to your ISP’s abuse desk. By doing this you let the ISP know about the spam problem on their system and help them to stop it in the future. Make sure to include a copy of the spam, along with the full e-mail header. At the top of the message, state that you are complaining about being spammed. Also complain to the sender’s ISP. Most ISPs want to cut off spammers who abuse their system.

Kelvin Collins is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia and the CSRA Inc., serving 41 counties in Middle Georgia and the Central Savannah River area. This tips column is provided through the local BBB and the Council of Better Business Bureaus. Questions or complaints about a specific company or charity should be referred directly to the BBB at (478) 742-7999, or by e-mailing