Got Anything Without Spam In It?


POSTED ON MONDAY, OCTOBER 3, 2011 AT 2:11 PM

Okay. So your brand new website design has been on the Internet for a few months now and you're already getting bombarded with junk mail. The stuff we've all come to detest, known as spam. This isn't the pre-cooked canned meat your Mom used to force-feed you when you were a kid. This kind of stuff is the scourge of mankind. Bothersome. Annoying. Costly at times when you sift through hundreds of junk mail messages and accidentally delete a legitimate message or two (or three). Downright hilarious at times, too.

Want a good example? We received this junk mail message last week (complete with spelling mistakes, punctuation errors and all). It just won the first-ever, MW Web Design "Spam Of The Year" Award. We've seen different variations of it before but this version really takes the cake:

From: different-name-every-time@different-domain-every-time.com
Subject: Re: Payment Notification
Message: We are writhing to know if it's true that you are DEAD? Because we received a notification from one MR. GERSHON SHAPIRO of USA stating that you are DEAD and that you have giving him the right to claim your funds. He stated you died on a CAR accident. He has been calling us regarding this issue, but we cannot proceed with him until we confirm this by not hearing from you after 7days. Be advised that we have made all arrangements for you to receive and confirm your funds without anymore stress, and without any further delays.

All we need to confirm now is your been DEAD Or still Alive. Because this MAN'S message brought shock to our minds. And we just can't proceed with him until we confirm if this is a reality OR not But if it happened we did not hear from you after 7days, then we say: MAY YOUR SOUL REST IN PERFECT PEACE"

YOUR JOY AND SUCCESS REMAINS OUR GOAL.

May the peace of the Lord be with you wherever you may be now.
Your Faithfully,
Mrs.Farida Waziri.

Is this a good one or what? I laughed so hard when I read this message that I have a copy of it posted up on my wall now which makes for a good chuckle every half an hour or so. No, I'm not dead. Why the hell are you "writhing" me? I have not "giving anyone the right to claim my funds". And I thought people died in car accidents (I can't remember the last time someone died on a car accident). Isn't it just wonderful to know that "my joy and success remains their goal"? Hallelujah. Run along now and don't ever bug me again.

The word spam (in reference to junk mail) originates from the Monty Python "sketch" of the same name which made its debut on television over forty years ago in 1970 (hey, that was the same year the Vancouver Canucks entered the NHL — oh no, don't get me started). The word is spoken more than 130 times in the three-minute sketch. The title for this article comes directly from the sketch when Graham Chapman asks Terry Jones "have you got anything without spam in it?" Who ever would have thought that it would become a household word? One that you'd prefer not to use (let alone hear) every day?

What can you do to fight spam? The real truth is — not much. Today's spammers never sleep. Also known as e-mail harvesters, they always manage to find a way to get around the filters set up by your ISP. They continue to "innovate" by using techniques such as image spam which is very difficult to detect.

Along with some common sense tips, here are some measures which have helped a number of our clients to reduce the amount of spam flowing into their Inbox folders and filling up their Junk E-mail folders. If you're a new website owner, you may wish to give this some consideration:

1) Create one real e-mail address (or e-mail account — whatever you prefer to call it). This will be an e-mail address which you will only give out to trusted sources. It will become your permanent e-mail address so don't display it on your website. Guard it with your life if you plan on holding on to it for any length of time.

2) Never use prefixes like info, sales, mail, inquiries or admin in your e-mail address. Avoid "common" prefixes and don't use your domain name as a prefix either (ie: if your domain name is fiddleysticks.ca, don't use the e-mail address fiddleysticks@fiddleysticks.ca).

3) Create e-mail aliases. As many as necessary. When you send product inquiries and other types of messages to companies you don't know, never use your permanent e-mail address. Use one of your aliases instead. Since you just "love" getting those annoying newsletters (aka: sell, sell, sell) which you never subscribed to in the first place, you can simply delete the alias once it reaches the "too much junk mail" threshold.

4) Try putting one of your e-mail aliases on your website. Remember that this will be a different e-mail address than your permanent one — think of it as a disposable e-mail address.

5) Be sure to encode the e-mail alias on your website. Do a search for "encode e-mail address" on the Internet and you'll find out exactly how to do this. Note that encoding an e-mail address using character entities in order to make it less visible to spammers and spambots isn't a foolproof way to combat spam but it will help to minimize the onslaught.

6) Having a unique, disposable e-mail address on your website will help you to keep track of exactly where all of your spam comes from when you use multiple accounts and aliases in your e-mail application. Once you start getting too much spam from the e-mail alias on your website, you can delete it and create a completely different one. But remember...

7) When you respond back to legitimate requests which have been sent to the e-mail alias on your website, always answer back with your permanent e-mail address, not the "disposable" one. This way, you won't miss any important, legitimate messages in the future. You'll just miss all of that wonderful junk mail (which won't be any loss at all)*.

8) It's not a good idea to display any of your e-mail addresses or aliases in chat rooms, forums, newsgroups, blog comments or other public places on the Internet. This is a sure way to invite hundreds of unwanted messages into your mailbox. Be careful with forums and look close for that "do not display my e-mail address" checkbox.

9) If an e-mail message looks suspicious (ie: "award notifications", all CAPITAL letters and spelling mistakes in the subject line), don't open it. Never click on those (fake) unsubscribe links and be really careful when opening attachments from unknown senders. Check out our article on Internet Security for more information (you may also be interested in reading another one of our articles entitled E-Mail Etiquette : Using Bcc Instead Of Cc).

10) Regardless of your frustration level, never respond back to any junk mail. If you do this, you're just asking for it. When it comes to spam, quite often, the sender's e-mail address will be spoofed. In some cases, it may be a Joe job in which case, you might end up sending a series of nasty four letter words back to an honest, unsuspecting businessman somewhere in the United Kingdom (hopefully, not a lawyer)!

11) It's a good idea to report spam to your ISP, web host and to other organizations but this takes up a lot of valuable time. If you're getting hammered with junk mail, you might make better use of your time by setting up a good set of spam filters using custom rules in your e-mail application. If you use webmail, you may wish to consider using an actual e-mail application on your computer instead. This will give you much more control over junk mail filtering (setting up "rules" in Apple Mail, which many of our clients use, is very simple to do).

12) Last but not least, why not just put a contact form on your website to reduce the amount of spam you receive? No matter how well-designed they may be, contact forms have the potential to generate truckloads of spam thanks to all of the form spammers (and comment spammers) out there now. A great deal of "form garbage" comes from hackers searching for specific security vulnerabilities on your website.

There are other ways to fight spam and reduce the amount of junk mail you receive but the steps above are a good starting point. We'll expand on this discussion in a future article and we'll take a closer look at setting up custom rules in a couple of different e-mail applications.

In closing, when you wake up tomorrow morning, be sure to give yourself a quick pinch to make sure you are, in fact, alive. Your computer might just be receiving unnecessary payment notifications from one Mrs. Farida Waziri throughout the day...

* The e-mail address on your website is primarily used for new customers. Once you've replied back to a new customer using your permanent e-mail address, ask them to add your permanent address to their address book for any future correspondence. If a customer happens to lose your permanent address, they can always contact you again by visiting your website or by calling your telephone number. Obviously, you're going to want to put your permanent address on your business cards and brochures but then again, it's pretty hard for a spambot to "steal" an e-mail address from printed matter sitting on someone's desk. Just keep in mind that none of this is foolproof. If someone has a worm on their computer, there goes your permanent e-mail address.

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