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4. Responding to spam e-mail will only make it worse

By Mark Alberstat

OPENING UP the mailbox on the front of my house each day, I often find more junk mail than regular mail.

The same problem is now happening in my electronic mailboxes, but to an even greater extent.

When I checked my e-mail this morning, I had 23 messages, only five of which were ones that I wanted or took the time to read. The rest, sadly, was spam: mass mailouts for everything from herbal Viagra to home mortgages.

Junk e-mail has become a problem and there is no let-up in sight.

Brightmail, a company that provides spam-blocking software for ISPs, reports that in January 2003 its software saw over six million spam attacks. That's 2 1/2 times the amount recorded just a year earlier. They also recorded over one million attacks for Valentine's Day. That's a lot of unwanted messages asking you to buy chocolates, flowers and lingerie.

Although you and I may delete most spam we receive, just a small percentage of replies can pay for that piece of unwanted e-mail you received this morning.

Spammers have various ways of getting your e-mail address. One of the cheapest is buying a CD from direct-mail companies with millions of addresses on it for as little as $25. With this and an Internet connection they can send out thousands of e-mails every day.

The term "spam" is one of those words in our culture whose origin is unknown. The best bet is that the term was from a Monty Python song that repeats word endlessly, as in: "Spam spam spam spam, spam spam spam spam, lovely spam, wonderful spam." Like the song, spam e-mail goes on and on without saying anything.

There are several ways for you to combat spam. Some service providers, such as Chebucto, have spam filters installed and give their users options to deal with spam, including outright deletion.

A common way your e-mail address gets spammed is by posts you send to newsgroups. If you are a member of a newsgroup and post to it, one suggestion is to use a disposable e-mail account for this purpose. Such addresses can be created at sites such as, or any number of other sites.

If you find your address is getting hit hard by spam, simply create another account. If your e-mail has a signature block at the end with your address in it, it is a good practice to put a few spaces in that address so that if it is caught by a spammer, the address won't be formed correctly and your address won't show up on one of those CDs.

If you are getting spam, one thing you don't want to do is to reply to it. Responding to junk e-mail notifies the sender that the account at the other end is active, and this will perpetuate the spam, not slow it down.

An individual can also load software that is intended to stop spam before you find it in your inbox. A popular and free application is Mailwasher. This software allows you to preview your e-mail before you download it to your PC. You can even bounce e-mails back to their originator, saying that the address was unknown.

Of course this is just one of many e-mail filters available for the PC and the Mac. Most, however, are shareware that has to be paid for after a set period of time or to get the needed functions, or are commercial filters such as SpamKiller, produced by Network Associates.

Whether you choose to fight spam with some of these suggestions or simply delete it as it arrives in your e-mail box, like the luncheon meat by the same name it will be with us for a long time to come and won't get any better with age.

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, e-mail If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


The Mousepad Index


Originally published 9 March 2003


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