Never ever answer a spam message

Let your fingers walk to the Delete key on your computer. So was the consensus in a recent article about spam in a leading computer magazine.

Many companies and Internet service providers try their hardest to limit the amount of spam we receive. Not only is it a nuisance to us but it can block an Internet service provider's computers with its shear volume.

They use various techniques to block spam. Some try to intercept any message that contains certain keywords like "buy" or "sign up." Others try to intercept messages that come from particular addresses. And some give you the option of accepting messages only from people whose addresses already are in your own email address book.

None of these techniques work very well. In tests, some methods showed as many as thirteen percent of legitimate email that was misclassified as spam while some allowed as much as 65 percent of spam to show up as legitimate email.

Spam blocking systems are available through Internet service providers such as AOL. Others require that you purchase specific programs either in computer stores or over the Internet. Eleven of these programs or systems were tested in the article with mixed results.

My own experience with one of the better programs is that it showed a list of allowed and blocked email. Then I had to go through each list to see if legitimate email was blocked or spam allowed through. When I finished, I had spent as much time looking at all the messages as I would simply letting all them come through to my Inbox and then deleting the spam.

I use Microsoft's Outlook Express for my email. My Inbox shows subject information for each individual message. It also shows a brief "preview" of the message in a small window at the bottom of the screen as I highlight each message. This way I easily can see if the message is unwanted advertising. I hold down the Control (Ctrl) key as I highlight each message that I suspect is unwanted. I go through all my messages this way and when finished I click on the Delete button and remove all the highlighted messages. I do not open any of this unwanted email. I don't believe this takes any more time than using any of the spam blocking programs.

We get into seemingly endless discussions of spam; where it comes from and how to limit the amount received. Unfortunately it is very hard to do almost anything on the Internet without leaving a trail of our email addresses. And even if we don't, some computer programs used by "spammers" use random methods to generate addresses and then send out millions of messages hoping some will get through.

Some people have tried using free email accounts like Yahoo or Hotmail for any messages to merchants. Others use false email addresses on Internet forms where they don't want to receive email from the requestor. People even sign up with Internet companies that generate disposable addresses for each message, thus hiding your real address. And of course, you should follow the "Golden Rule" of spam: never answer a spam message even to be "removed from this list." All this does is verify that your address is correct and places it on a priority list to sell to other spammers.

I get scores of email messages each day, most of which are spam. I have learned to live with this just as I do with "advertising" snail mail that I receive in my street side mailbox. I spend a few moments highlighting each suspected message and then let my finger walk to the Delete key. Try this and good luck.

If you would like to hear more about spam, or other computer topics, visit "Coffee and Computers" at the Tustin Area Senior Center, 200 S. 'C' Street, any Friday morning from 9 a.m. until noon. Bring your questions or just come in and visit.

In the meantime, keep the neurons happy, synapses snapping and enjoy computing.


Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

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