Let’s Talk About Spam – Ways To Protect Yourself

So for the past several weeks, we’ve been talking at a very non-technical level about the various aspects of spam – what it is, why you should care, whether to report or not, whether to unsubscribe or not, etc. We’ve tried to keep our conversations free of geek-speak and at a level 100 to 200 because these posts haven’t been for email admins – they’ve been for email users.

But you’ve stuck with us for the whole series, and you’ve picked up a thing or two along the way, and your technical level has improved significantly. First, thanks for sticking with us. Second, congratulations on your progress. Now, we’re going to get a little more technical. In this post, we’re going to talk about the ways you can help to protect yourself against spam. Some will be software-based, others will be behavioral, but all will help keep spam out of your inbox.

Email services

Not all email services are created equally, and some do a much better job of blocking spam than others. Don’t assume that you have to pay (much) for a quality email service. Many of the major free services lead the industry in spam suppression. Some do supplement the free services with advertising, but that is a small price to pay for a mailbox relatively free of spam. If you prefer to use your ISP’s email service, ask them about what they do to help combat spam and see how they respond.

Email clients

Many of the free email services expect you will use nothing more than a web browser to access your email, but they still provide you with ways to connect using POP3 or IMAP. Good email clients include strong spam filtering, and can add another level of protection to your inbox.

Antivirus clients

Take a close look at your antivirus software. The free service many vendors offer includes basic antivirus capabilities, but paying a small amount can buy you much more, including protection for your inbox. Not only will the antivirus software scan for malware in attachments, most also perform antispam and antimalware actions too.

Keep a throwaway account

Maintain an extra email account that you can use for “throw away” purposes, in case you have to provide an email address to register for something but you don’t want to subscribe to something. You can also use it for all those stores that ask for your email address, but that you really don’t care whether or not you really get their mailings.

Be careful who you give your email address to

See our previous post on this. You don’t have to give your email address to a clerk just because they ask for it. The fewer people you give it to, the less spam you will receive.

Use mailing lists

Whether you have a church group, a parents’ carpool list for your kids’ sporting teams, the PTA, or the HOA, make sure they use a mailing list instead of just putting everyone’s email address on the CC line. Ask, and if they don’t know what you mean, give them your throwaway address. Then, use one of the free distribution list services from Microsoft, Yahoo, or Google to set up a mailing list and volunteer it to your group. You’ll be doing everyone a favour.

Never, ever forward

You’ve probably received tons of those joke, funny story, sad story, etc. emails that start out with a “ha ha” and then are followed by hundreds and hundreds of email addresses that represent every single person who has also been forwarded that email. Eventually one or the other of two things is going to happen to all of those email addresses. Someone will use them to send out their own spam, or their computer will be infected by malware that harvests all the email addresses on that chain, including yours, and starts spewing spam out to all of them. If you must forward that story, delete all the email addresses between the “Hi” and the real content, and only BCC it to your friends and family. Point out what you did, and maybe they will do the same for you!

None of these are foolproof ways to avoid spam. The only way to do that is to give up on email entirely. But all of them will help you keep the amount of spam you receive to a minimum.

Written by Casper Manes

I currently work as a Senior Messaging Consultant for one of the premier consulting firms in the world, I cut my teeth on Exchange 5.0, and have worked with every version of Microsoft’s awesome email package since then, as well as MHS, Sendmail, and MailEnable systems. I've written dozens of articles on behalf of my past employers, their partners, and others, and I finally decided to embrace blogging and social media, so please follow me on Twitter @caspermanes if you enjoy my posts.


  1. Sara Angstrom · June 26, 2012

    Forwarding at one point was merely annoying and a sort of social spam, but with the rise in malware attacks, spammers saw the behavior as the opportunity to spread their attacks organically without having to get their hands on more and more email addresses. Because it persisted, it’s become an unsafe and poisonous thing to do.

  2. Clarissa Tumane · June 27, 2012

    Of all the advice given, none resonate to me more than the “keep a throwaway account” advice. I ended up having to, in a way, “give up” my first email address that has a strong sentimental value with me because it was where most of close friends and families contact me, because I had to contend with so much spam on it already.

    Could you imagine unread emails running to tens of thousands already because of it. I got too lazy having to delete and “mark spam” most of the emails because I did “sign up” for some of those email services and unsubscribing from each of those mailing is too tedious. Instead, I signed up for a new email account.

    Now, I know I should have a throw-away account. It would have been easier that way

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