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Spam - what can we do about it?

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Spam (see Disclaimer Notice)

What is Spam?
Spam is unsolicited e-mail sent to a large number of recipients, usually promoting a product or service. As e-mail costs close to nothing to send, many people have taken this as an invitation to send as much as they can to as many people as they can find. Spam is the the electronic equivalent of junk mail sent, except that the recipient pays the vast majority of the cost receiving the unwanted mail.

It started in the 1990s with the rise in commercial awareness of the Internet. Spammers began offering bulk e-mail services to companies wishing to boost their advertising circulation whilst paying little or nothing to send each message. Although this is very annoying to the vast majority of recipients just a few sales per million messages sent produce a profitable for the spammer, offering them an economic incentive to continue.

Why do I keep getting the same e-mails?
There are several sites, usually selling drugs (mainly Viagra) and cheap software and mostly in the USA, that offer franchise deals. You sign up to the site, sometimes you get your own little site, and you get a mailing list of potential customers. Unfortunately, everyone that signs up gets the same list and so as they join up they send out their own Spam. As a result you keep getting the same offers (sometimes formatted the same) from each franchise operator, sometimes several on the same day.

Is Spam illegal?
Currently legislation is inadequate as most Spam comes from abroad and there is no International legislation in force. The UK has some legislation regarding Spam to private individuals but it is not enforceable. This legislation does not include businesses. A lot of businesses in the UK tend to adhere to the rules because they don't want to upset potential customers but businesses abroad are a law unto themselves. Plans are afoot in the USA to take major spammers worldwide to court in the hope that, if this succeeds, the others will cease.

Can we stop Spam with the Unsubscribe link?
The general rule is NOT to unsubscribe. If the mail is from a reputable and trustworthy business then it is normally safe to do so. Anyone else NO. What a lot of spammers do is to send mail out to guessed addresses such as info@mydomain.com or fred123@aol.com. You want it stopped so you click on the Unsubscribe link and either send them a mail back or go onto their website to say you want to be removed from the list. What you have just done is to confirm to them that the e-mail address they guessed is a real address and they can then use it or, even worse, sell it on as a live e-mail address and you will then get even more. If you delete them then they don't know that they have been received. If you send the message back then the return address will almost certainly be false and it will be returned to you.

So how can we stop Spam?
At the moment Spam is a fact of life. Most people can now recognise it easily and just hit the Delete key. Software is available which you can run on your computer that will recognise Spam before it hits your Inbox but it is not 100% and some still gets through and, more importantly, it may mistakenly remove important e-mails. Some e-mail accounts include a Spam filter which may suffer the same problems. Spammers are clever - they hide text in e-mails, include junk words and use strange spacing like v.i.a.g.r.a or vi@gra to fool anti-spam software. Even Spam filters, that can learn what e-mails are considered as Spam, have problems. No doubt things will change - let's hope it's for the best.

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