Anti-Spam tips for the UK

Spam – tips to help you fight back

What is spam?

Spam is the name given to unsolicited and unwanted messages sent to your email address. In other words – electronic junk mail.

Anyone who uses email will probably receive spam. Spam emails are sent out in vast numbers, and often look like adverts. More than half of total emails sent are spam, and they cause considerable cost and irritation.

Spam emails sometimes contain viruses, which can damage your computer. They can also be used for criminal purposes – spam emails may look very official, and ask you for confidential information such as credit card details or bank account PIN codes.

How do I deal with spam?

Companies and governments are taking measures to deal with spam. You can help yourself by following these tips.

Do

  • before opening it, immediately delete any mail with a suspicious subject title, or from an address you don’t recognise
  • be very careful when opening attachments – they can contain viruses that activate the moment you open them
  • install a good quality virus scanner and firewall and keep them up to date
  • install a spam filter, or subscribe to one from your internet service provider
  • consider having another email address to use when giving your email address to people you don’t know
  • if an email asks for confidential information about your bank or credit card company, check by phone if the request is real – genuine enquiries of this kind are very unusual
  • if you send emails to a large number of addresses, use the BC field (blind copy) – it means addresses are not visible to others
  • be careful when revealing your email address or telephone number on the internet, for example in chat rooms.

Don’t

  • don’t buy, don’t reply! Never respond to spam or buy any product advertised
  • do not try to unsubscribe from a spam email – if you do, the spammer will know that your email address is still valid and you will probably get more spam mails
  • do not react to false virus reports. These reports tell you how to take measures against a so-called virus. In reality there is no virus, but following the instructions may damage your computer
  • don’t give away confidential personal details. Be very cautious in giving away confidential information via email or on the internet, such as your bank account number, PIN code, password or login data Always think twice, and check whether the party on the other end is really who they claim to be.

What to do if you get spam

Once you have started to get spam, it is almost impossible to stop it other than by changing your email address.

Websites offering practical advice include the junkbusters website and the GetNetwise website.

Your rights

Under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) businesses can only send you direct marketing messages by email if you have given explicit prior consent or where you have an existing customer relationship.

If you already have a relationship with a business you can opt-out and request that the business does not send you any more marketing emails.

Senders of marketing emails to individuals cannot conceal or disguise their identity.

How to complain

The Office of the Information Commissioner is responsible for enforcing the PECRs.

If you continue to get spam after you have opted out or receive unsolicited spam, you can download a complaint form from the Information Commissioner’s website – do not forward unwanted emails.

If you receive spam in the UK, the content of which you find to be deceptive or misleading – whether or not it is unsolicited – you can complain to the Office of Fair Trading or to your local trading standards department.

By Jim Hopkins, USA TODAY Wed Feb 21, 7:01 AM ET

SAN FRANCISCO – The tech quandary for many small businesses isn’t about building a better website or when to buy Microsoft’s new Vista operating system. It’s an old problem managers thought they’d already licked: spam.

Unwanted commercial e-mail has surged in recent months as online fraudsters, bogus pharmaceutical suppliers and others send billions of pieces of spam engineered to pierce defenses at companies of all sizes. The share of e-mail deemed junk rose as high as 80% last month from as low as 47% in September, says software security firm Symantec.

Small businesses are especially vulnerable because they don’t have full-time tech managers or big budgets to fight back. “They put up fewer defense shields,” says Mike Song, co-author of The Hamster Revolution: How to Manage Your Email Before It Manages You, published last month.

Most of the nation’s 6 million small employers have access to anti-spam shields on their computers; they just need to use them, Song and other e-mail authorities say. Need something stronger? Consider adding low-cost or free spam blockers such as MailWasher. Plus, don’t forget that small companies need employee e-mail-use policies, too.

In Minneapolis, self-employed publicist Alexis Walsko says her share of e-mail that is spam doubled in the past year. Lola Red PR’s overall e-mail volume surged to 350 messages a day.

Even so, as little as 5% of the mail that gets to her in-box is spam because she makes sure to use the filter built into her Outlook e-mail program, a tool she didn’t use a year ago. “I have just learned to deal with it,” she says. “Seems like spam is here to stay.”

It’s common for professionals to spend 40% of their time reading and sending e-mail, Song says. “They feel like hamsters on a wheel. The more people send messages, the more they get back.”

Spam is more than a nuisance. It may carry malicious programs that allow hackers to penetrate a PC’s security and view personal information such as credit card numbers or
Social Security numbers. Plus, a torrent of spam can bury legitimate e-mail such as customer complaints that companies are legally bound to pursue, says Stephen Whetstone, vice president at legal software maker Stratify.

Tips for dealing with spam:

• Don’t just delete.

That misleadingly simple solution does nothing to slow the arrival of more junk mail from the same sender.

Instead, use filtering tools built into widely used programs such as Outlook, training the software to block spam before it arrives. In Outlook, right-click on offending mail, choose junk e-mail, then add the sender to your blocked list. Users of Yahoo’s free e-mail program can check a box next to an e-mail, then click on “spam.” Google’s Gmail, which last week became available to everyone, has a similar feature.

• Write an e-mail policy.

At most, 10% of small companies have formal policies, Song estimates, and among companies that do, most are “just gathering dust.”

Policies are rare because, unlike corporate giants, small businesses don’t think they’re big enough to justify something so formal. “Small businesses are usually run in a more ad-hoc way,” says Adam Schran, CEO of Ascentive, which makes employee computer monitoring software for small firms.

Good policies cover the waterfront. They remind employees that computers are for business and not personal use. They outline when to use company e-mail addresses to buy products or register for services online. They tell how to use anti-spam software. And they remind employees to report surges in spam to supervisors.

Just as important, policies must be in writing and given to everyone with instructions to follow the rules.

• Try “disposable” addresses.

Create an account in an e-mail program that lets you automatically forward mail to your permanent address. Use the new address when signing up for online offers. If spam overwhelms the disposable address, delete it and create a new one.

Here’s an example. A Massachusetts book dealer uses Google’s Gmail to create the address, bostonrarebooks@gmail.com. He programs the account settings so all mail is forwarded to his permanent address, bob@bostonrarebooks.com.

Bob uses the Gmail address to subscribe to trade magazines and to buy office supplies. Months later, if spam becomes a problem in the Gmail account, Bob can delete it without jeopardizing his permanent address.

• Boost defenses.

Free programs such as SpamBayes and MailWasher work with Outlook and other e-mail programs for additional anti-spam protection.

In Los Angeles, consumer goods wholesaler Via Trading installed SpamBayes on each of its 20 employee computers to screen the company’s 2,000 daily e-mails for spam. CEO Jacques Stambouli says employees adjust the program to their own needs. “It really works – really, really well,” he says.

Self-employed website designer HollyAnn Carbino in Schuylerville, N.Y., uses MailWasher with her two e-mail programs, Outlook and Thunderbird.

A self-described “control freak,” Carbino likes MailWasher because it offers more options for deciding what’s spam. Plus, it lets her “bounce” mail back to senders so it appears as though her address is invalid.

Carbino has a lot of mail to deal with: 39 addresses, one for each website she manages for clients. Even with that volume, she’d never give up e-mail. “I couldn’t do it,” she says. “I can’t stand the phone.”

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