It seems like everywhere I go, someone is complaining about spam! Well, while spam is nothing new, if you are getting spammed it is probably by your doing! Start by doing a Google search of your email account in between quote i.e. "firstname.lastname@example.org" - If Google can find your email, so can email extracting spiders. Email Extracting Spiders are rather inexpensive software that, similar to Google, crawl the internet looking for publicly available email addresses. One of my favorites is the GSA email spider.
While this tactic may look and sound unethical! It's 100% legal and a common practice for companies ranging from Amazon, Home Depot and every other Nigerian prince trying to give you money after you sent him $39.95 via Western Union. However, in many occasions it is the email owner who enables being added to these spamming mailing lists.
The number one mistake you can make if you are trying to avoid spam is to publish your email on your own website's contact page! There is, "we hope", a contact form there for a reason; so why do people insist in publishing an email address as well? This makes no sense; but I find that more than 50% of our clients do it anyway. What is even worst is that they make it a hyperlink; in other words you can click on it! This makes it very easy for spiders to lift your email address from text.
So, how do you deal with spam?
The first step is to identify if your account has been published on the internet using the Google search described above.
The second step is to contact these pages and have the live link remove. In some cases where the email address is listed on many Google search pages (10+) an email address change may be in order! If a new email is something you are considering we strongly encourage you to use a dot (period) in your name; for example email@example.com. The dot or period is part of the programming language and it makes it more difficult for spiders to scrape emails from plain text or HTML when you employ this technique.
Third, if your business participates in trade shows or events I strongly encourage you to always give an alternative email account from Gmail.com, Outlook.Com, and even Yahoo.Com. I personally have gone as far as printing small batches of business cards for trade shows with my alternative email instead of my direct email.
In some circumstances changing or giving up your email account may not be possible because it is a work email or simply a direct contact for your business – for example, firstname.lastname@example.org. In these rare cases fighting the spammers is the only option. I will caution you that this is an uphill battle. However, after 3-4 month you will see the amount of spam in your in box reduced by as much as 90%!
Before you can start fighting spammers, you need to get familiar with how to read email headers (see our knowledge base section). An email header is none visible information presented to your server by the sending server. It includes the sender's IP, the gateway server IP, the sender's email and usually a reply email account that is different from the sender's. While this information can be manipulated, typically the gateway IP itself, it is very difficult to mask. Altering any of this information is called forging the header. The number of spammers using header forging techniques is less than 1% since it requires advance IT knowledge and resources!
Which bring us to the question – What is considered SPAM?
Well, to me spam is all and every type of unsolicited email. I am one of the few who believe that if I wanted a product or service I will go out and research it then buy it. I hate being spoon fed and typically, companies that engage in this type of marketing are offering less than average products or services. This is why they are spamming you! Regardless if we are talking about Capital One Bank or Home Depot, if you purchase a mailing list and you email me - you are a spammer! Although it is considered perfectly legal, and while I refuse to buy anything from a SPAMMER, a great number of people do and this is why SPAM has not gone away! Nonetheless, it is important to point out that spammers are broken into 3 categories:
- Corporate Advertising. Believe it or not, in this day and age, many companies both big and small buy mailing list. As a matter of fact the business of mailing list has become a multi-billion dollar business. Everyone from FaceBook to Google collects and sells the data. In many instances no personal information is enclosed, allowing many of these companies to circumvent privacy laws. The good news about this type of email is that it is fairly easy to unsubscribe and normally not as intrusive or as massive as some other types of spam.
- Unscrupulous Affiliate Marketer. These are people who market products for a commission. About 90% of the time you will find an unsubscribe link at the bottom of this type of email. You need to unsubscribe yourself before you can take further action. I will also advice you to start an excel worksheet and keep track of every company you unsubscribe from. After you have unsubscribed once, and you continue to be spammed, you need to start reporting this sender and the company that they represent. We'll get to this procedure in another post.
- Straight out junk mail. This is everything from fake dating proposals to people who are allegedly terminally ill and looking to get rid of several millions in assets. The best way to deal with this is to report them and then if you are hosting with a cloud or dedicated server as we are, go straight to the your fire wall setting and block the range!
So, now you know how spammers got your email and we hope you have taken preventive measures to deal with it in the future; see our next post where we are going to show you how to fight spam!