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Here are 16 of the most common ways spammers get email addresses:
1. From your website(s). It is foolish to have your email address 'in plain site' on your websites, because harvesting them is one of the biggest ways that spammers get huge lists of email addresses to spam.
Action: If you own one or more websites, remove ALL the clickable links to your email addresses. Use forms, replace some of the characters (for example, use 'info at domainname.com' instead of 'firstname.lastname@example.org'), or use a graphic with the email address.
2. From mailing lists that you're on. Be wary if either the list of email addresses is readily available to members (so all a spammer has to do is become a member), or if the list owner rents or sells the subscriber list to others.
3. From newsgroup postings. If you participate on newsgroups, your email address is an easy target for spammers who lurk there.
Action: Always use a 'throw-away' email address that you don't use for anything else when you post to newsgroups (for example, a hotmail or yahoo email account).
4. From contest entries. This is a big one. If you enter a contest, you can expect to receive a ton of spam.
Action: When filling out contest entries, other forms for information, or to sign up for newsletters, pay attention to whether or not you have the option of receiving 'other' email from that service provider, host or company. Often the box that gives you the option is automatically 'checked.' If you don't 'uncheck' it, you're in for a lot of spam! Also, use a throw-away email address so you can throw it away when you start to receive spam.
5. From registering for free software, MP3s, downloads, etc. Again, many of the sites that offer these freebies are doing it mainly to get your email address, which they will then either spam themselves or they will sell the list to others.
Action: Always use a throw-away email address when registering for freebies.
6. From comments in blogs. One of the newest ways for spammers to get your email address is through blogs, since many blogs let anyone participate and leave comments.
Action: Always use a throw-away email address for blog postings that display your email so you can stop using it when you start to receive spam.
7. From spyware and other viruses and trojans. Having your email address in other people's address books can make you vulnerable. spammers have ways to harvest address books and capture private email addresses.
Action: This is a difficult one to combat since you do want friends, family, clients, business associates, etc. to have your email address. Our best advice here is to use more than one email address. That way, if one starts getting a lot of spam, you'll only have to change it with a more limited number of people.
8. From special software that looks for email addresses. spammers run special software that tests for common names and dictionary words to find email addresses on registered domain names.
Action: This is another difficult one to avoid since it does happen. Using unusual email addresses (not common names or simple dictionary words) helps a bit.
9. From IRC, instant messengers and other 'chat' programs. Some spammers have Unix-based software running in the background that can glean email addresses. Messaging and chatting are often the first things newcomers to the Internet do, so spammers get instant access to new email addresses this way!
Action: Recognize that spammers and scammers frequent chat and other IM forums, and protect your email address as we've described above.
10. From online 'people finder' pages or 'white pages.' Sometimes spammers can harvest thousands of email addresses from these sources.
Action: Never list your email address in any of these sources (or, at the very least, use a throw-away email address), and remove your email address from any such listing you find.
11. From conference proceedings, professional directories, or other printed materials. Even though spammers have to physically type all these email addresses into a system in order to use them, if they acquire a large enough list, it's worth it to them.
Action: Don't add your info, or opt out of, any member directories that make you include your email address. If your workplace address is in directories, ask your webmaster or employer to disguise it in some way for you. Don't provide your email address to any online or offline sources, or at a minimum, use a throw-away email address.
12. From online 'profile' pages. Many Internet 'communities' have profile pages where users or members can tell a bit more about themselves to others in the community. Spammers have software programmed just to spider these pages -- again, mainly because newcomers often place their profiles online.
Action: Again, don't post your email address (and be very careful what other info you provide as well). If you feel you must provide your email, use a throw-away email address.
13. From web browsers such as Netscape or Explorer. Some website owners have various tricks and options to 'capture' their visitors' email addresses.
Action: Think carefully about putting your main email address in your browser. Read the dialog boxes and click 'no' when asked whether or not you want to subscribe to something automatically (unless, of course, you do want to receive it).
14. From 'chain letters,' hoax letters or 'petitions.' Spammers will sometimes set up emails that ask you to add your name and email address (sometimes on behalf of a 'cause,' which makes you want to sign up), only to use them for spamming you.
Action: Avoid all of these. Don't add your name and email address.
15. From signing guestbooks online: This one doesn't seem like it would lead to spam, but think about it... many of these guestbooks are public.
Action: Don't sign public guestbooks.
16. From purchased lists. We already mentioned this, but it's worth mentioning again. If your email has been harvested using any of the other methods above, it could also find its way onto a list that's for sale -- and spammers are lining up to buy them.
Following the suggestions above will certainly help cut down spam. In addition, here are three more tips:
1. Don't EVER reply to spam. Remember, "if it's spam, it's a scam."
2. If you are sending email to a number of people -- for example, to a lot of friends or to newsletter subscribers -- learn how to use the 'bcc' option in your email program so spammers don't have access to all the names you email. Even if none of the people you email is a spammer, the email may get forwarded many times, and all those email addresses may wind up in the wrong hands.
3. Learn how to use email filtering options. These certainly won't stop spam, but they will help, and it will be easier to manage your email. By listing keywords that you're finding in spam emails, you'll isolate further emails either by subject or sender, and they can be sent to your 'trash' without having to see them.
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