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Simple ways to minimise spam

Did you know that in 2011, it has been estimated the average business email account will send and receive 105 emails per day. What’s more scary however, is that in any one second of a day, 560,000 spam emails will be sent by spammers. That is, roughly  more than 3 million spam emails by the time you have read to here. Chances are, you are probably receiving more than you want to as well.

You may be wondering why you are targeted by spam and where they got your details. In many cases it is purely a case of spammers running scripts (code) which auto-generates thousands of email address options. In others, spam lists are generated by different means. Below is a list of methods you can use to try and minimise the spam you receive.

Remove text based contact details from your website

Providing contact details on your website is an essential part of doing business. Indeed many businesses use “Contact us” page impressions as an important metric in determining website success. The page may have a contact form which users can fill in, but there is a very strong argument for also providing your office contact details including phone numbers, postal address and a contact email address. This allows site visitors to contact you at a later date without needing to come back to the website.

However, what a few of our clients have not realised, is that the simple act of listing your email address on your site as text can lead to you being spammed more heavily as well. The reason is simple; spammers have developed scripts which visit websites to find text based email addresses and then add them to their database for future correspondence.

What you can do to subvert these attempts by spammers is provide your contact details as an image on the webpage. In doing this, it is easy for human eyes to see the details and copy them down, but not nearly as easy for a spammer’s bot to obtain your data.

Use image or text based human verification tools

Have you ever filled in an online form and wondered why at the end of the form you have to enter in the letters or words shown in strange colours and fonts? It is simply a verification process designed to make sure that the information entered is done so by a human not a bot. These verification tools are called CAPTCHA’s (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart).

They are primarily used for a similar reason to the above point; it is easy for a spammer to create a script which can be used to fill in an online form with their fake details and a spam message. However, it is much more time consuming (and therefore financially less viable) for a spammer to go through the process of verifying the information, meaning they are less likely to spam you through your contact forms.

It is worth noting however, if you are looking to implement a CAPTCHA system; they are not infallible.  In fact a recent study by independent researchers found that spammers and hackers have developed tools which can read some of the more popular CAPTCHA puzzles with up to 60 percent success. The report recommended that specific CAPTCHA tools reCAPTCHA and Google’s verification CAPTCHA were the only tools which had resisted automated reading.

Use a proxy email address for website submissions

If you are making a purchase online, or are being coerced into signing up with a website, do not be afraid to use a less used email address as your contact email. Consider setting up a proxy for your own personal use and establishing a communal proxy for any business registrations. By using a proxy address you can minimize both the grey mail you receive in your personal inbox (allowing you to check for it when you like) and potentially the spam you receive – as unfortunately, some lists which shouldn’t be sold on to others are, especially by overseas sites.

In using a proxy address for your site registrations, there are a few things you may wish to consider. If your primary address is your.name@businessdomain.com.au you may consider using an address such as submissions@businessdomain.com.au. Alternatively, as an extra precaution you may also want to consider changing the protocol used in the email. For example if your email addresses usually have firstname.lastname, then with the proxy account, consider having no period between the name. This will make it harder for would be bot’s to ascertain your real addresses.

Manage Grey Mail

Grey mail is most easily defined as those emails which you receive, but which you are not really that interested in. It is distinguished from spam which is email which is sent unsolicited. By contrast, grey mail may be a newsletter from a company, or an announcement email or something of a marketing nature, but what they have in common is you are not that interested in it and will likely just delete the email without reading it. For the most part, grey mail is received as a result of providing your email address in signing up for something online.

Deleting these emails is not the answer unfortunately. As part of a registered distribution list, you will continue to receive these emails. The best thing you can do is scroll to the bottom of these emails and select the option to unsubscribe from the list. This simple 30 second procedure will save you future emails from this sender.  However, make sure you NEVER reply to a spam email, this will only serve to prove to the spammer that the email account is active.

Use Anti-Spam filters

Unfortunately, despite our best attempts, stopping spam reaching our inboxes is not always easy. You may use any of the techniques above, but spammers exist to make sure that their unsolicited emails reach legitimate email addresses. If you are finding your inbox overrun with spam or phishing emails then chances are you need to up the ante. At this point you may want to investigate an anti-spam solution. Many anti-malware programs will have an incorporated spam filter, however, as stopping viruses and malware is more the purpose of these programs, they are not always perfectly accurate in stopping email spam. An Anti-Spam solution which is purpose designed to stop email spam and malware is going to save your company time, minimize your risk and save money. A simple search on either Bing or Google for spam solutions using terms such as “best spam filters” or “anti-spam platform” will return dozens of results.

Remember, stopping spam takes more than luck; it takes vigilance, common sense, a team who follow your IT policy and a solution you can depend on.

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Hamish Anderson

Hamish Anderson

Hamish Anderson is a passionate, technology-centric marketer, who has actively sought to challenge the status quo and to improve business outcomes through the application of well executed strategy. Hamish aims to aid brands integrate their marketing campaigns and to generate robust ROI. Hamish has worked with a number of brands over the years including Merck Sharp & Dohme, Mercedes Benz, Foxtel,  Cure Cancer Australia and digital security firm EnBox. Hamish can be found tweeting @reach_hamish, or at a good restaurant or bar with a plate of good food and a glass of great red. 

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