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SPAM: Can It Be Stopped?

SPAM: The word makes me cringe each time I hear it. No, it’s not because I dislike canned meat products. It’s because I hate unwanted, uninvited crap invading my e-mail inbox. I don’t know if it is just me, but it seems that SPAM is on the increase lately and it is more annoying than ever.

Is there a way to stop SPAM? Other than changing your e-mail address regularly, I know of only one anti-SPAM method that actually works well and stops 100% of SPAM. The solution I am talking about is known as a ‘white list’ and as you might suspect, it is the opposite of a blacklist.

A white list is a list of e-mail addresses or domains that you will accept e-mail messages from. Anyone who sends you e-mail that is not on your white list will not reach you and depending on the white list solution, may get a message back that requires them to perform some steps to generate an e-mail message to you (that will actually reach you) that requests you add them to your white list.

Spammers send millions of messages and cannot possibly deal with all the return messages they get back to see why their messages were not delivered. And since most spammers use bogus return e-mail addresses when they send out their crap, they will never see any return messages anyway.

White lists do work great. I used one that my former ISP offered and I loved it. It was a bit of a pain to log into their web site and make new additions to the white list, but to me it was worth it to be able to shut SPAM down 100%. Unfortunately, my current ISP does not offer a white list option, but if they ever do, I will begin using it again for sure.

There are a multitude of other SPAM-fighting options that will help cut down on the SPAM you receive, but none that I am aware of that are as effective as a white list. I hope to include a lot more information in SPAM and how to fight it in the future.

Now that we have established that it can be nearly impossible to stop SPAM from invading your mailbox, how about we take another approach?

I’d be hard pressed to find someone who gets any more annoyed over SPAM than myself and, that being the case, I decided that since I can’t seem to stop SPAM from arriving in my e-mail, maybe I can get back at them somehow. Before you jump to conclusions, this does not involve hacking anyone’s site or taking out contracts on spammer’s lives!

The spammers have one very significant weakness that they can do nothing about. Since they are trying to sell you something, they must give you a way to order the product they are trying to sell to you. Most often, it is a web site that they are trying to direct you to. And in a lot of cases, these web sites have a ‘Contact Us’ page. Do you see where I am going with this?

I don’t do this in response to every SPAM message I receive since I don’t want to spend too much time getting back at spammers. However, when I get a particularly annoying SPAM message, I will often visit the ‘contact us’ page of the web site they are promoting and share a few, ah, choice words with them. At the very least, it makes me feel a little better being able to ‘SPAM’ them back.

Now before you start visiting spammer’s web sites, there are a few things to consider. You do NOT want to simply click the link that the spammer has included for you inside the SPAM message you have received. These often contain codes that can tell the spammer that they have reached a valid e-mail address and may even include a code to include information on your e-mail address in their web logs when you click the link they include inside the SPAM e-mail messages. This is not something I have ever confirmed, but I suspect it is possible.

Instead, you want to separate their code from the web site address they are trying to get you to visit. Depending on your e-mail software, you may be able to right-click anywhere inside and e-mail message and select ‘view source’ to look at the actual code that is used behind the scenes to make up the e-mail message that appears on your screen while hiding nasty little secrets from you. Most often, HTML e-mail is used for this purpose.

If you are able to view the source of the e-mail message, examine the code to find their link. It may look something like this:

That meaningless looking code that comes right after is what you want to avoid. So, open your web browser and visit the address without the code:

You can then determine if they do indeed have a ‘Contact Us’ page on their site and if so, you will be able to tell them how happy you are about receiving their SPAM. Be sure to leave a bogus address in spot they expect you to include your e-mail address on their web site. After all, one good turn deserves another!

If enough people do this, it may actually become a bit of a problem for the spammers, and at the very least, annoy them a bit. Then at least they will know how we feel to be on the receiving end of their crap!

Good luck and happy SPAM fighting!


Comment from Dave Diamond
Posted: August 15, 2005 at 1:56 pm

They won’t *really* know how you feel because they probably don’t read the messages. And you’re definitely wasting more of your time than theirs, but if it makes you feel better, knock yourself out.

The spammers that plague me are mostly in Asia so there’s precious little we can do about them. What we really need to do is close down the borders on the Internet — at least on the mail protocol and force ISP’s to close down their open mail ports and start using cryptographically signed messaging.

Uggh, spammers. Don’t even get me started.

Comment from Administrator
Posted: August 26, 2005 at 12:39 pm

I must disagree with Dave here, because I believe many of the messages I leave *are* being read,
although perhaps only partially. And that’s good enough for me.

Here’s why:

I am presuming that many, or perhaps most of these “contact us” pages you see on spammer’s web
sites (and probably most web sites in general) result in the web site operator receiving any
comments left there via e-mail. I know that is how it works with my sites.

When I leave these, ahem, “choice” comments on the spammer’s “contact us” page, I am always
careful to leave a legitimate-looking, but bogus e-mail addresses, and I also use a legitimate-
looking subject.

For example, on one of those all-too-common pharmacy sites, I might use “Can I order Viagra
from your site?” for a subject. I think we all know the answer to that question!

It would be difficult for me to imagine a spam web site operator not opening an e-mail with
a legitimate-appearing e-mail address and a subject like that, and having the pleasure of
reading at least a few of my carefully-selected comments.

This scenario still results in me putting more effort into leaving the message than it does
the spammer to read it, but I still like the feeling that I’m wasting a little of their time.

I don’t do this in response to every spam message I receive. Just when my spam tolerance has
surpassed its limits and I need to blow off a little steam.

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