If you use email, then you are painfully aware that you receive mail from people you don’t know, and on subjects in which you have no interest. Commonly called Junk mail or Spam mail. How do you get it, how do you stop it, and what sorts are there?
This is to be read in conjunction with our other publication - Spamtraps
Broadly speaking, there are four types of email:
- Email you want;
- Unsolicited email that is marketing legitimate products or services;
- Unsolicited email that is marketing fraudulent products or services;
- Email carrying malicious malware content.
Bearing in mind that one man’s junk mail is another’s requirement, it is highly likely that you will be interested in categories 1 and part of 2, and not interested in categories 3 and 4.
The trick lies in sifting the good stuff from the junk and if you need to, being able to safely scan the junk in case any good stuff is mistakenly categorized as junk.
Where does it come from? Principally mailing lists, email robots, and address generators.
Mailing lists. A mailing list is quite simply a list of email addresses. You will have noticed as you travel around the internet that you are asked for your email address from time to time. In the case of legitimate businesses, they are building up a mailing list of potential customers who have shown an interest in their products or services. The mailing list will be used to send newsletters and other marketing material at a later stage. This is the rifle-shot style of marketing, emails directed at known potential customers and one you are probably reasonably happy with.
However, the story does not end there. Far from it. The shady business dealers and scam artists now take over.
Email robots scour internet websites scanning them for anything that looks like an email address. Address generation programs take a domain and create all possible email addresses that could exist in it. firstname.lastname@example.org
and all combinations of letters, numbers and special characters in between for example. These are used to create mailing lists often numbering well into the hundreds of thousands or even millions of entries.
The resulting list is sold to bulk mailing companies and individual scammers. This is the shotgun marketing style, send out emails to anyone and everyone in the hope that someone is interested in the content. The content can be legitimate but is far more likely to be a scam.
The first recommendation. Be very careful about to whom and where you disclose your email address.
What sorts of scams are there? Quite simply, one. They want your money. Either by selling you non‑existent products or services or by getting hold of your credit card or banking details and stealing your cash. There are other scams, usually a variant of blackmail, but these are much more likely to be specifically directed against an individual.
How do they plan to get your money? Usually by using online stores selling all sorts of medical, sexual and financial products. These are by and large scams, particularly if you receive exactly the same email from several different sources.
A particularly notorious scam is the ”419 Advance Fee” scam
. You are asked if someone, usually a lawyer, banker or relative of a deceased prominent person can use your bank account as a conduit to release secret funds. A variant is that you have the same name as the owner of a deceased estate. You, of course, will receive a portion of the blocked funds. All you need to do is to pay upfront for the documentation to allow the transfer to happen. Yeah, right.
Another is the beauty scam. You are invited to correspond with a mail-order bride
, usually from the poorer parts of the world. Her picture shows her as a dead cert to reach the final stages of the Miss World competition. All you need to do is to send her cash for her visa and plane-ticket to meet you. She won’t turn up. Anyway, you wouldn’t be too happy with whoever turns up if she did. She won’t be a Miss World contestant.
The second recommendation. Be very, very skeptical. Go with your gut feeling. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Check on consumer websites like HelloPeter.com and the like to see if there are any adverse comments or indeed positive recommendations. Use Google image search to see if a photo is of the person you expect.
The third recommendation. Think at least twice before using your credit card or EFT details online. Do not, do not, do not use any payment service that is not approved by your local bank and banking regulator and does not use an approved security processing environment such as Thawte. Your bank will be more than happy to help with useful advice.
How to stop spam and junk. Sorry, but you can’t. If you have used the Internet, your address is already on mailing lists. Usually, an unsubscribe request only confirms that your address is real.
You need to check with your email service provider what anti-spam measures they are using, if for no other reason than to check that they aren’t inadvertently blocking email that you legitimately want. Use a commercial anti-virus program on your email platform. Freeware or commercial programs like McAfee or AVAST include an email scanner to detect malware. To put it bluntly, don’t connect to the Internet without one.
Most desktop email clients like Outlook and online clients like Gmail and Hotmail can set sender and domain addresses as “junk’ addresses and automatically direct mail from them to a junk folder. Keep your list up to date, but like King Canute, you are probably fighting a losing battle. Check the junk folder as well. Some legitimate email can be misdirected there.
Bottom line: Be vigilant, and keep your skeptical ears up.