Are you being bombarded with spam emails offering pharmaceutical products, loans, water dispensers or various adult services? Spam is always annoying, sometimes out of context and often dangerous.
Over 320 billion junk mails are sent every day and 94% of malware is delivered through junk mails. According to Google, Gmail blocks more than 100 million phishing emails every day, of which recently 18 million are related to COVID 19
But you don’t have to be a defenseless victim! With these five simple steps, you can easily prevent junk mails from popping up in your inbox:
Tip 01: Don’t share your email
Being a little paranoid when sharing your email address is one of the best tips to avoid spam. The Internet is swarming with bots that scan websites, forums and social media pages, looking for emails that have been posted in public. These addresses are added to databases and within a short while, flooded with unwanted junk mails.
Acting like a secret service agent does not work for you?As we all know, there are cases where you simply have to share your contact details. After all, you want people to be able to reach out to you. In these cases, munging your email might make it harder for unsolicited bulk e-mail providers to collect your data.Address munging is a simple but effective technique to prevent your email address from being collected by spam bots: Present your email in a way that people can easily understand it, while simultaneously fooling spambots. Spam bots look for the characteristic email pattern (firstname.lastname@example.org). Most of the time, adding a space between your name or spelling out the @ symbol already does the trick.Example: Instead of email@example.com, you could write spam [at] myservice [dot] com. While this makes it more difficult for bots to recognize your email address, humans still understand how to reach you.
What about your own website?Protecting your email address on your own website is quite easy: Instead of publishing your email address as plain text, you can encrypt your address. The encryption is not visible for humans, allowing them to read your email address as expected. Spam crawlers, on the other hand, do not understand the encrypted code.To encrypt your email address, you can use services like email-encoder.com or, in case your website is running on WordPress, install a plugin like Email Encoder Bundle or Email Address Encoder.Of course, you could also refrain from sharing your email address at all and provide a web contact form instead. But be cautious not to open another of Pandora’s boxes: Spammers love contact forms and automatically send you emails if your contact forms are not protected by Captchas or other types of form guards.
Tip 02: Use multiple email addresses:
When signing up for a service or creating an account for a website, you very probably have to hand over your email address. This might make your email available for the public (e.g. when joining a forum) and allow the service itself to send you offers, coupons or newsletters. Furthermore, spammers watch online groups and mailing lists and harvest new email addresses that are published carelessly.
Do not use your personal or business email address:
To guard your main email address from receiving spam, do not use this address for website registrations, e-commerce sites, service signups or to participate in online contests or surveys. Instead, create a disposable or junk email address you utilize specifically for these use cases.
Your junk email address:
Always use at least two email addresses: One for your personal or business communication and one to sign up for services and to create accounts. This junk email address will probably receive loads of spam you don’t have to care about since you are not using this address to actually write or receive emails. In fact, when your junk email is flooded with spam, delete it and create a new one. This way, the main address you actually use to contact friends, family and colleagues will blissfully stay spam-free.
Tip 03: Name your email address carefully
To constantly enlarge their pool of email addresses, spammers have become quite creative: For example, spam bots routinely collect user names of online accounts and try to guess the corresponding email address by taking the username, adding an @ and trying the most popular email services like Gmail or Yahoo!. Since a shockingly large number of people still creates online accounts with their email address or full name as the username, it’s very likely that spammers will get a hit through this simple approach of trial and error.
Don’t reuse your email address!
To avoid finding yourself in one of those spam databases, simply do not use your email address or full name to create online profiles. Instead, use a nice and friendly name that makes it hard for people (and bots) to guess your email address by simply looking at the name.
When creating certain accounts or signing up with specific services, you sometimes have to, or at least want to, use your real name or email address. May it be out of service requirements or because you want to be professional (e.g. when registering with business communities like LinkedIn). In these cases, have a thorough look at the privacy settings of the respective services. Most of the time, you can hide your email address from your account and prevent your profile to appear on search engines simply by ticking of a few checkboxes.
Tip 04: Think before you click!
It might seem like a no-brainer, but, unfortunately, spammers are getting more and more sophisticated in producing plausible-looking messages which can fool even the wary:
Do you remember the last newsletter from this very familiar looking service you might have signed up for, but can’t quite remember? Want to unsubscribe? Well, do NOT click on unsubscribe before checking the link!
How to check links before clicking them:
Cynically, spammers often include an “unsubscribe” link in their emails. In case you received an email with a link or an unsubscribe option and are not 100% sure if it’s legit, right click on the link in your email client and select “copy link”. Now open a new email and paste the link in the message field.
Does the link url still look trustworthy? Or does the link secretly direct you to another domain not at all associated with the alleged sender? If everything looks fine, chances are that you can unsubscribe from the newsletter without consequences. In all other cases: Better move that email directly into your spam folder!
Don’t be caught by clickbait:
Believe us, you really don’t need to know what incredibly thing happens when a man tries to hug a wild lion or which 21 stars ruined their face duo to plastic surgery. And you really, really, really can miss this once in a lifetime offer or special coupon that has mysteriously appeared in your inbox.
Through clicking on links within spam mails, replying to them or – heavens forbid – buying stuff offered in junk mails, you inform spammers that your email address is active and invite them to send you even more spam. Furthermore, you risk compromising your security and infecting your computer with malware and viruses. Therefore: Think before you click!
Tip 05: Groom your spam filter like a new puppy
So you’ve followed all of the four previous tips to a T and still receive spam? Don’t worry, it happens to the best. Here is your last resort: Use a spam filter.
Spam filtering tools and anti-virus software help you to sort out spam messages and guard you from malware. Spam filters will automatically scan new emails and quarantine them in a special spam folder, making you more aware of cautiously handling these messages and preventing malware from infecting your computer.
A spam filter does not work for you?
Installing a spam filter is only half the deal: In order to work efficiently, you have to train your spam filtering tool. All good anti-spam solutions use machine learning algorithms to identify what’s spam, and what’s not. But these algorithms can only be as good as the data foundation they are working with. By marking spam mails as junk, you teach your spam filter which messages have accidentally slipped trough, increasing the chances that the filtering technology will succeed the next time.
Not your spam, of course, but your knowledge: 😉 Nowadays, most spam filtering tools share databases between users. Through moving an email into the spam folder, you’re also helping other people to avoid spam. It’s a win-win and easy to do. So take a little effort and groom your spam filter. In the long run, it’s worth the few extra seconds!
Sometimes, an email address is too infested with spam, no matter how thoroughly you train your spam filter.
In this case, it might be best to clean your mailbox from all spam, create a new account and migrate your mailbox data to a new email address. With your fresh email account, don’t forget to implement the tips above to stay spam free!
Photos by Hannes Johnson, Stephen Phillips – Hostreviews.co.uk, Timothy Hales Bennett and Etienne Girardet from Unsplash