May 7, 2010
Keeping Spam From Canning Your Business
IconKeeping Spam From Canning Your Business By Cliff Ennico . How can you keep unsolicited e-mail messages #150; #147;spam#148; #150; at bay, without blocking out important messages from people you don#146;t already know? This is one of the great dilemmas of modern technology, one that every home based business needs to cope with, as there really is no perfect solution. The CAN-SPAM Act that Congress passed last year contains a lot of sympathetic language about how bloody awful spam is, but doesn#146;t really offer a simple or tough solution to the spam problem. Let#146;s say you are a business consultant who relies heavily on e-mail to communicate with your clients. You advertise your consulting practice heavily, and because you always include your e-mail address, you get lots of e-mail every day from people who have seen your advertising and want more information about what you do. Your biggest problem is spam. You#146;re getting over 1,000 spam messages every day, and it#146;s taking you close to an hour a day to wade through all the junk. That#146;s probably too much time, but you#146;re absolutely petrified that you are going to delete an important message from one of your clients in the mistaken belief that it#146;s spam. Sound familiar? E-mail is fast becoming the predominant means of communications between consultants (such as myself) and their clients. It#146;s fast, it#146;s cheap, and it happens in #147;real time#148;. The bad news is that it#146;s often tough to tell important e-mail messages from #147;spam#148;. For the uninitiated, #147;spam#148; is an unsolicited commercial e-mail from someone that#146;s trying to sell you something (usually a cheap or sleazy something) you don#146;t want, entice you to enter into a fraudulent investment scheme, or join a club of people you would never want to be associated with. Just in the 60 seconds it took me to write this paragraph, I have received 10 spam messages. Oops, there#146;s another one. Under the federal CAN-SPAM Act, spammers must allow you to #147;opt out#148; from receiving future messages, but fell far short of making spam illegal. Do you really have the time to follow the #147;opt out#148; procedures in every spam message you receive? Even if you did, how do you know the spammer won#146;t put your address on another junk mailing list and e-mail it to 10,000 of his spammer friends? Until Congress or the Federal Trade Commission sets up a #147;do not spam#148; registry of e-mail addresses similar to that already in effect for telemarketing phone calls (and to my knowledge, no efforts are currently being made in that direction), we are on our own when it comes to dealing with spam and the people who send them (many of whom, out of fairness, are small family businesses like your own who are trying to make a living in the rough and tumble world of the Internet #150; hey, I#146;m sure some spammers read this column). There are literally dozens of #147;spam filter#148; software programs you can buy that can filter out the worst of the spam messages you get each day (type #147;spam filter software#148; into your favorite search engine), but they all work on the same, somewhat limited, principle. The program scans your e-mail address book, and anyone who sends you an e-mail who#146;s not on the list is considered a #147;spammer#148;, and treated accordingly. While the better programs will give that someone a chance to prove that they are not sending spam, most prospective customers won#146;t take the time to deal with your watchdog software program (they will probably think the program#146;s response is itself a spam message, and will delete it accordingly). So what do you do? Check Your E-Mail Frequently . If you check your e-mail messages only once or twice a day, you are likely to have a couple of hundred messages to review. If you check your e-mail messages every 15 minutes or so, you will have only about a dozen, and it will be easier to spot the good ones. Use Your Preview Feature . Most e-mail programs (such as Outlook Express) have a #147;preview#148; feature that allows you to see the contents of an e-mail message before you officially open it. Look at the preview page first before looking at the subject heading or who it#146;s from. If the preview takes more than a split second to load, it#146;s probably spam. But . . . by using the #147;preview pane#148; in Outlook Express, aren#146;t you making your computer more vulnerable to computer viruses or #147;worms#148; that could destroy your hard drive? I polled several computer professionals about this recently, and received some conflicting advice. Some (whose anonymity I will protect) tell me the most prevalent computer viruses or #147;worms#148; are not in the text of the e-mail message itself, but rather in an attachment which would have to be separately opened. So merely viewing the #147;cover page#148; of the message would not begin installation of the virus or worm, and you should be okay using the preview pane in Outlook Express. Even if a worm or virus could be downloaded from the preview pane, it would take a couple of seconds to begin installation, so deleting a suspicious-looking message quickly would block the installation process before any damage could be done. Of course, you have to have a quick trigger finger to make that work. Arthur Gerstein, founder of SoHo Computer Solutions ( ), disagrees with this laid-back approach. #147;You really shouldn#146;t use the preview pane in Outlook Express#148; says Gerstein, who advises that the best way to avoid computer viruses and worms in general is to avoid #147;eating tainted flesh#148; #150; simply put, you should avoid Microsoft products as much as possible, as those are the programs the virus-mongers go after. Explains Gerstein: #147;There are perfectly good office suites that work in Windows, such as Star Office ( ), that are far less expensive than Microsoft#146;s Office product and much less prone to attack from viruses. I am using Pocomail ( ) instead of Outlook Express right now, simply because nobody is writing malicious code for Pocomail. Linux, anyone?#148; Well, maybe, but how many readers out there are really ready to scrap software that an overwhelming majority of people use? There is no perfect answer to this problem, and you may have to make a difficult choice: if you are more afraid of deleting an important message in the mistaken belief that it#146;s spam, use the #147;preview#148; feature in your e-mail program; if you are more afraid of viruses or worms, do not use the #147;preview#148; feature in your e-mail program. Make the Subject Heading Distinctive . When you scroll through your e-mail, you are allowed to identify messages either by the sender#146;s name or by a subject heading. You should look at both before deleting any message #150; there are real people out there with names like #147;Mohammed O#146;Reilly#148;. Tell your clients they should put their name or a key phrase into the subject heading of each e-mail message they send you, so you will be sure to spot it. For example, if you send me an e-mail, you should put #147;re: your column#148; or #147;Home Business Journal#148; into the subject heading. If I see words like that, I will take a closer look at your message. More general subject headings, such as #147;thought you should see this#148; or #147;I#146;ve got a problem#148; are much more likely to be spam, and if I#146;m in a rush I will probably delete your message without reading the preview page. Use a Code Phrase . Of course, when it comes to prospective customers, you cannot call them in advance and tell them what to put in their subject headings. So, whenever you include your e-mail address in your advertising, Web site or whatever, be sure to say something like #147;mention #145;Code X#146; in your e-mail subject heading for better service#148;. That way, whenever you see #147;Code X#148; in an e-mail heading, you will know it#146;s from someone who saw your advertisement. Check Twice Before Deleting . When you delete an e-mail message, it usually goes to a #147;Deleted Items#148; folder before it disappears entirely from the face of the Earth. Before deleting the items in your #147;Deleted Items#148; folder (which you should do at least daily), review the sender names and subject headings one last time before sending them into oblivion. I can#146;t tell you how many times this has saved me from deleting an important message. Clearly, the solution to the spam problem is to cut down on the amount of spam you receive. Here are some tips on keeping your computer spam-free. First, never give anyone on the Web your e-mail address. Often sites ask visitors to #147;register for free#148; and then turn around and give or sell the addresses they collect to spammers. If you must register on someone#146;s Website, you should enter a fake e-mail address, or create an alternate e-mail address on a free Web e-mail service, such as, and use that one specifically for site registrations and surfing the Web. That way you can check the free address only once a month or so to delete all of the junk e-mail you will undoubtedly receive. If you are still getting too much spam, you can use the Rules Wizard in Microsoft Outlook to have the messages you receive automatically sorted, or simply delete the messages, which takes only a few seconds. Oh, and never, never, never reply to junk e-mail, even if it says to #147;unsubscribe#148; via e-mail. At best, it will let them know that they are sending spam to an active account and someone is reading it! To avoid spreading your spam to folks you e-mail, you should: delete headers (those long lists of addresses at the top of forwarded e-mail) from messages that you are forwarding to someone else #150; not only are headers annoying to scroll through, it also could provide an unscrupulous person with a host of new addresses to spam; and use #147;blind carbon copy#148; (bcc) instead of the #147;to#148; line when you send e-mail to a long list of people #150; #147;bcc#148; prevents recipients from seeing who else received the message. If anybody out there has any other solutions, please let me know. This is a problem I live with daily, and I#146;ll be happy to credit you in a future column. And be sure to include the words #147;Your Column on Spam#148; in the subject heading . . . CLIFF ENNICO, best known as the host of the PBS television series #147;MoneyHunt#148;, is the author of the nationally syndicated newspaper column #147;Succeeding in Your Business#148; and the legal correspondent for the Small Business Television Network at . You can find out more about him at . Permission granted for use on

Posted by Staff at 1:43 AM