The Basics: Executive Summary on Spam

“Spam” is defined as unsolicited commercial email. It is sent to you by unscrupulous people trying to make a fast buck — usually by ripping you off. Many spams say that you can get off the mailing list when you ask, but very often if you try it, it leads to more junk mail because you’re confirming to these unscrupulous people that your address is good. Just throw away any junk mail you get.

The people who send spam are, by definition, unscrupulous criminals who either want to defraud you by selling you junk, or unscrupulous criminals who are trying to steal your money by identity theft. This is serious business, and you need to be aware of their tactics by reading this entire site carefully!

Most wonder how spammers got their email address. It is actually pretty easy for them: if your address is shown in any public place, spammers can and will find it. They use software to scan web sites, chat postings and more for any address they can find, and it’s added to spam lists — and you cannot get off those lists.

There are some ways to keep your address from spammers, but it’s not as easy as you may think!

Once you start getting spam, it’s too late: spammers won’t “unsubscribe” (or remove) you, and you will continue to get it forever until you get a new address that is not shown in any public place. (And even then, we show you how you can still get spam.)

There are, however, a few instances when you can reasonably safely ask to stop getting spam. We explain how to tell when to try.

There’s a law, right? Right, but the federal “CAN-SPAM” law didn’t help — and actually made things worse. (What did you expect from politicians?!)

You can get some relief, however, by filtering spam from your own mail. We also give you tips on getting legitimate mail delivered — whether you’re trying to send it, or trying to receive it.

A very scary type of spam is phishing — email that appears to be from your bank warning that you must “update” or “confirm” your account information. Banks never send such messages. The emails are sent by identity thieves who want to drain your bank accounts.

Worse, you can become part of the problem: spammers want to take over your computer (make it a “bot”) to send spam to your friends “from” your name and address! This can also happen if you don’t use a good password on your mail account (which can also easily lead to breakins of your bank accounts!)

Spam isn’t the only email pest. For instance, there are urban legends — silly stories passed along as if they were true. We explain the real danger here.

The Internet is a wonderful resource that can help you find out nearly anything you want to know. It’s also home to the same types of people who inhabit the real world: thieves, con men, liars, cheats, exploiters and other ruffians. You can be robbed online just as easily as you can in a back alley.

If any of this is new to you, you really should read the entire text of this site, not just this summary. It includes the “whys” behind our advice, and obviously has more detail than this summary.

Want to Know More? Read the full Spam Primer starting here.

About the Primer’s Author

I am Randy Cassingham, the author and publisher of This is True, a weekly column founded in 1994 reporting on bizarre-but-true news stories. True is one of the first emailed publications, so I clearly understand both email and the difficulties that spam causes us all. You’re invited to go to the site for a free subscription to This is True.

The Spam Primer started as an extraordinarily long author’s note in the 8 December 1996 issue of This is True. As one of the first email publishers ever, I not only realized the power of email, but also understood the flip side: how easily it could be abused — hence, this primer. The text was updated and expanded several times since then, so to reach a wider audience it was moved to its own minisite, where you are now.

In the grand scheme of things, who cares about your email? I do. And everyone who wants the Internet to remain a cool and useful place should. It’s not just because I make my living sending email that people truly want (I make absolutely sure of that by using “verified opt-in,” a system which all mass email publishers should use), I also am a serious Internet user. I’m online most of the day, most every day. I don’t want garbage streaming into my mailbox, but I do want to get the mail I have asked for, or that enables me to do my job.

Yet I get, or my filters block, tens of thousands of emails every month that I have made clear I do not want. Hundreds per day. That’s not “cool and useful,” that’s a massive burden. And it’s all because people who want to force us to read their scams, get-rich-quick schemes, and other bogus come-ons, or to steal our hard-earned money. And that’s what the vast majority is: if it was a legitimate product or service, they wouldn’t need to use unethical and illegal means to pitch it, would they?

Randy Cassingham
Author and Publisher, This is True®

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