What is Spam?

A “spam” e-mail is generally defined as an unsolicited mailing, usually to many people. A message written for, and mailed to, one individual that is known to the sender is not spam, and a reply to an e-mail is not spam, unless the “reply” repeats endlessly.

Spam e-mailers have become a separate part of the Internet, with their own host computers, methods, and politics. Many Internet sites have begun to forbid spamming, for several reasons – one is a sense that it is unethical, another is that, over time, other Internet sites will stop all e-mail from that site and thus prevent legitimate e-mail from getting through. As a result, spammers have begun to set up their own Internet sites — sites that cater to, or encourage, spamming.

Spam Do’s and Dont’s

Never respond to a spam e-mail.

For a spammer, one “hit” among thousands of mailings is enough to justify the practice. Instead, if you want a product that is advertised in a spam e-mail, go to a Web site that also carries the product, inquire there, and tell them you do not approve of spam methods and will not patronize a company that uses spammers.

Never respond to the spam e-mail’s instructions to reply with the word “remove.”

This is just a trick to get you to react to the e-mail — it alerts the sender that a human is at your address, which greatly increases its value. If you reply, your address is placed on more lists and you receive more spam.

Never sign up with sites that promise to remove your name from spam lists.

These sites are of two kinds: (1) sincere, and (2) spam address collectors. The first kind of site is ignored (or exploited) by the spammers, the second is owned by them — in both cases your address is recorded and valued more highly because you have just identified it as read by a human.

Tips for Avoiding Spam

Read carefully when filling out online forms requesting your e-mail address, and exercise your choice.

If you don’t want to receive e-mail from a Web site operator, don’t give them your e-mail address unless they offer the option of declining to receive e-mail and you exercise that option. If you are asked for your e-mail address in an online setting such as a form,make sure you pay attention to any options discussing how the address will be used. Pay attention to check boxes that request the right to send you e-mails or share your e-mail address with partners. Read the privacy policies of Web sites.

Use a filter.

Many ISPs and free e-mail services now provide spam filtering. While filters are not perfect, they can cut down tremendously the amount of spam a user receives.

Short e-mail addresses are easy to guess, and may receive more spam.

E-mail addresses composed of short names and initials like bob@ or tse@, or basic combinations like smithj@ or toms@ will probably receive more spam. E-mail addresses need not be incomprehensible, but a user with a common or short name may want to modify or add to it in some way in his or her e-mail address.

Disguise e-mail addresses posted in a public electronic place.

You will received the most spam just by placing an e-mail address at the bottom of a webpage. Spammers “harvest” these addresses with computer programs that collect and process addresses and add them to spam mailing lists. If a user must post his/her e-mail address in a public place, it is useful to disguise the address through simple means such as replacing “example@domain.com” with “example at domain dot com” or other variations such as the HTML numeric equivalent, in which “example@domain.com” could be written:


If your employer places your e-mail address online, ask the Webmaster to make sure it is disguised in some way.