Spam is normally caused by Spammers getting hold of your email address and adding it to their lists. They then include you in their regular emails, trying to sell you stuff. There’s not much intelligence there; they add you to the list and keep you there even when you don’t ever read their emails.
And if you should ever try to unsubscribe, they take that as confirmation that there’s a live person there and double the amount they send to you!
Large amounts of money exist for the taking in the Spam area – the Spam kings make tens of thousands per month, with some of the larger ones turning over in excess of $40,000 – $100,000 per month! However, as time goes on, most people have wised up to Spam and their response rates have dropped. As a result, they are sending larger numbers of messages per month in an effort to retain their income – which in turn is making the spam problem worse! Spam has become a huge problem for webhosting companies and ISPs, with over 90% of email now being spam.
One possible solution has been discussed, involving charging a fraction of a cent per email sent to make Spam unprofitable (Spammers sned millions of messages, looking for a fraction of a percentage response). While a variety of possible solutions have been discussed, the bottom line is that there is no overarching solution now. As the problem grows over time, it’s likely that something like this will come into vogue. Part of the problem is that our current email protocols were designed 40 years ago, in a different world where email forgeries and spam just did not exist.
On our email servers, we run a multi-layer anti-spam approach. Messages from known spam sources are not allowed to enter our email system at all, which stops over 50% of spam before it gets anywhere near you. We then score incoming emails, assessing the spam-worthiness of each email using hundreds of spam characteristics in a database that is regularly updated. Our system will delete optionally “definite” spam and can also be set to deliver or delete “probable” spam, based on these factors. Also, all email is scanned for known viruses and blocked when a virus signature is found.
What can you do to solve the problem now?
1. Don’t list your email address on your webpage
If you list your email address, it’s only a matter of time before the spammers see it and put your email in their databases. Once on their lists, you’re pretty much there for life so it’s easier to not get on the lists in the first place.
There are many solutions that can be used instead of putting your email address on your webpage in cleartext. One of them is to encode the email address using one of a variety of techniques – a trick which renders it invisible to spammers, but makes it visible in normal web browsers. Another option is to make your email address into an image, which reduces spam – though some spammers can now read these too with OCR techniques!
2. Use a contact form instead
The absolutely bullet-proof solution is to use a contact form which collects their email, phone number and a short message and emails it to you, without making your email address visible on your webpage. Once the first message has been received, you can directly use email to correspond – it’s only the first message that is sent via the contact form. A contact form
While a contact form is a good solution, it has to be done properly or spammers can try to trick it into giving them access to your server account or using it to send spam on your behalf. We have a solution that has worked well over the years since we developed it and stops nearly all of these tricks dead in their tracks.
3. Don’t ever respond to a spam in any way
If you do, even to unsubscribe, they will take your email address as being useful and valid, and will send you more spam and add you to other lists! This includes displaying images in spam messages – that alone can validate you to a spammer as a real person (although our email system attempts to prevent this working).
4. Use a special “spam” email address
The idea behind this is to use a temporary email “forwarder” address on your website. When it starts receiving spam, change the email forwarder in your control panel and start using the new one on your website instead. This isn’t a particularly successful or long term strategy, but it can work to get you through simply in the early days. For example, you might use “email@example.com” instead of just “firstname.lastname@example.org”, and when the spam became too much, you might change it to “email@example.com”. As it’s only ever seen on your website it doesn’t matter too much; and you can use your normal email addresses in printed literature.
This same technique can be used when signing up for further information on a site that you suspect may be suspect or spammy. Brian uses a technique like this and gets virtually no spam despite having been a heavy email user for years.