Spam Is Your Fault

Spam is a fascinating parasite. We all get it and we all treat the symptoms, not realizing that we are part of the problem. Our ISPs, firewalls, antivirus email scanners and email software do a decent job of eradicating a lot of it. Here are a few proactive anti-spam measures you should take to avoid being a spam enabler.



Photo by Joelshine V2.3d

Yep, Your Fault

You had to go and get an email address, didn’t you? Why, if it weren’t for that, you’d never get any spam! All kidding aside, we are indeed to blame for some of the spam that our email software can’t delete for us. I’m not talking about pills and stocks; I’m talking about phishing attacks, catch-all email addresses and failure to filter.

Nuke Notifications

Have we become too dependent on notifications? In a perfect world, notifications come to attention only when we need to take action. They save us time, as we don’t have to keep checking in to multiple websites for status updates. In our imperfect world, the notification is the perfect social engineering vector for a phishing attack. Since we opt-in to receive them, we automatically open notifications because we expect to receive important information. If we have been using a particular notification long enough, we probably don’t even read the incoming notice! We scan over to the link and click through. Spammers know this.

It’s too much to ask that we modify our behavior. Instead, try opting out of notifications altogether. As a replacement, use your favorite reminder system to alert you to check in periodically, after all.

  • Pros: with notifications banned, you can trash any email received from those sites
  • Cons: if you have dozens of notifications, this is impractical
  • Compromise: banish only the likely phishing targets, like LinkedIn

Cauterize Catch-all Addresses

Catch-all email addresses are the result of an idea whose intended purpose was to prevent missing emails due to typos. In a perfect world, the technology works perfectly, ensuring that I get all email addressed to mitch@mydomain.com, mitchell@mydomain.com, allen@mydomain.com and mitchellallen@mydomain.com. In our imperfect world, it’s like leaving a key under the welcome mat. Spammers may target webmaster@mydomain.com, sales@mydomain.com or any other such address.

This is one of those things that’s easier to avoid than it is to undo. I indiscriminately created a whole slew of catch-all addresses many years ago. When I migrated to Gmail, I changed my mail servers from pointing to my domain to pointing to Google’s. As a result, I no longer have access to my mail server’s tool which deletes all email that is not addressed to a physical mailbox. This means I have to use Gmail’s filters.

The sad thing about this is that 50% of my spam is addressed to these blasted catch-all virtual accounts! Do not get started with catch-all addresses.

Free Your Filters

If your email client is not giving you the absolute best filter capabilities it can, simply search for third-party providers who do. It may seem like a lot of work, but the more you understand how your incoming mail is sorted, the better equipped you’ll be to alter that flow. Since I’m using Gmail, I’m always looking for tidbits from LifeHacker, such as Syphir Adds Awesome Advanced Filters to Gmail.

Keep in mind that filters which prevent email from ever reaching your inbox might be too aggressive, trashing Aunt Sally’s Famous Spam Recipe. SpamAssassin is one example. If you are able to tweak these filters, be sure to test them until you’re satisfied that nothing important is being blocked. Then, turn your focus to the email client’s filters which kick in as your email arrives in your inbox.

  • Pros: Become the master of your domain
  • Cons: Spend all day tweaking filters, instead of working
  • Compromise: find your own filter ninja and follow the given instructions

Be Diligent

That’s just a bit of advice. No software, hacks or tips are going to do any good if you don’t pay attention to what’s in your inbox.


One in a series of 26 strangely connected posts. Peruse Alphabet Soup for more.

The lighter side of spam: Kat, of Riding the Short Bus fame,recently wrote

According to My Inbox”.


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