by Petra Jones
Courtesy of The Crafts Report
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Besides being a nuisance, spam or unsolicited bulk e-mails can contain dangerous phishing or virus-related content. One of the biggest challenges for craftspeople is making an e-mail address readily accessible to customers but not to spammers--particularly automated programs that actively search the Internet for e-mail addresses to send spam to. There are, however, four practical steps you can take to reduce the amount of spam you receive.

1. Make your craft website less spam-friendly If you have a link on your website that customers can click to send you an e-mail, consider replacing the text with an image that says the same thing. The address is much less likely to be found by automated spam programs when in a picture file.

There are other things you can do, too, like replacing your e-mail address in the HTML link itself with javascript. There's guidance for this on the Dynamic Drive website (www.dynamicdrive.com/dynamicindex9/emailscrambler.htm), but be aware that some Internet users routinely have javascript switched off on their browsers and might therefore be unable to contact you. If you do this, make sure you include a note on your website to visitors that javascript must be switched on in order to contact you.

2. Use an anti-spam form on your craft website For the same reasons as point number one, another alternative worth considering is to create an anti-spam form for customers to use when contacting you. Sites such as SnapHost (www.snaphost.com/captcha/) offer a free form which includes a Captcha, an image containing a word or combination of letters and numbers which must be copied to verify the e-mail is not being sent by an automated spam program.

MailWasher is one of a number of free anti-spam programs available on the internet to filter your inbox for spam, with a color-coding approach to flagging potential junk mail.

Another way to reduce spam is to use a form that employs a "captcha," where visitors to your website are required to copy a five- to eight-digit code to verify they're not an automated spam program.


3. Consider using a disposable e-mail address Many Web hosting packages allow you to set up addresses purely for public display (aka disposable e-mail addresses), which then forward mail to your primary e-mail address. The advantage here is that they can be replaced if too many spammers discover the current e-mail address.

4. Disable HTML previews It's also possible to disable html previews in e-mails--this prevents the display of offensive images or code (which might harbor malicious scripts), although it does have the disadvantage of also preventing the display of legitimate e-mail content (but at least you have more control over what you do and don't view).

Clean up your e-mail with a spam filter
What should you do if spam has already become a problem and makes it difficult to spot the genuine craft-related e-mails among the junk? Besides numerous commercial programs, there are some free tools available for this.

For those of you downloading your e-mails with a program like Outlook, Outlook Express or Thunderbird, there's SPAMfighter.com. Here you can download a free 30-day trial of SPAMfighter Pro, after which the software reverts to the free SPAMfighter Standard ( limited to personal use and adds a small advertisement to outgoing e-mails). The tool includes protection against phishing (attempts to gain access to credit card, banking and other personal details) and spam for multiple e-mail accounts. The only drawback is that SPAMfighter is limited to Windows users (98/ME/XP/VISTA and 7). For users of Mac and Linux operating systems, there's also PostArmor.com, a free tool that filters e-mails by comparing them to a list of known spammers, customizable filters, as well as your address book and blocked list.

Many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offer some form of e-mail filter to block messages containing certain key words--check whether your e-mail provider offers this service.


Some anti-spam programs can interact directly with your e-mail server. MailWasher (www.mailwasher.net), for example, allows you to preview e-mails safely on your mail server before downloading potential viruses, spam and attachments to your computer. The software also flags suspicious messages. Besides being compatible with e-mail programs such as Outlook and Thunderbird, MailWasher can be used with free e-mail hosts like AOL, Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail. Although the free version is limited to checking just one e-mail account, Mail Washer displays probable spam in red and offers filtering to search e-mail for spam by key word or by blacklisted e-mail addresses.

Reporting spam
Besides reporting spam to your Internet service provider (ISP), another option is to use SpamCop which offers a free spam reporting service. To sign up, visit www.spamcop.net/anonsignup.shtml and enter your name and e-mail address then select "Send authorization e-mail." You'll then receive a password and a link to a page where you can log in. All you do then is copy (press "ctrl" and "C" together on your keyboard) the spam and paste it in the SpamCop form to report it. Taking these precautions and positive steps against spam should keep your inbox a little clearer.

Glossary

Captcha image: An image containing a word or various letters or numbers which must be copied to ensure an e-mail is being sent by a person and not a spam program.

DNSBL/DNS Blacklists: A list of IP addresses used to identify known spammers. E-mails received from these sources are automatically blocked by some spam programs.


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