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Life before the Internet was, in many ways, different than today. Back in the day, before the Internet, spam only had one definition, and it made everyone’s mouths water. Then the Internet became available to anyone with a computer, tablet, or mobile phone. Spam took on an additional meaning – a more dangerous one.
Definition Of Spam
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Nowadays, spam is defined as any kind of unsolicited, unwanted digital communication sent out in bulk. In the early days of the Internet, spam was usually limited to e-mails but, over the years, spam has evolved. Spam exists on almost all electronic mediums including phones, emails, blogs, texting, forums, social media, and search engines. Yes, there are spam text messages and even spam calls, but we’ll get into that later
Remember the time you used to get mail from a mailbox? At the bottom of the mailbox you’d see a ton of flyers from different restaurants, or department stores advertising promos or sales? And you’d get annoyed because you’ve never been to those places, ever? Spam is the electronic equivalent of all that junk mail.
History Of Spam
Among all the many types of spam, spam email is the most popular. Anyone with an email account is familiar with the irritation that comes with being inundated with emails about financial propositions from fake Nigerian princes, or offers of “wonder pills” from bogus virtual pharmacists.
Since spam appears most often in emails, a common misconception is that it originated in computers. But that isn’t true. The first recorded instance of spam happened in May 1864. A mass solicited commercial telegram was sent using Western Union. Many years later, in 1978, the first electronic spam email was an advertising email written by Gary Thuerk sent to 393 recipients.
How To Identify Spam
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In this day and age, spammers are becoming more and more sophisticated. They are always finding new ways to trick people into thinking their unwanted junk messages are worth the time you spend reading them. That said, it is in the best interests of your computer’s health and your sanity to know how to tell if an email is spam or genuine. And we’ve got some tips to help you with that :
Examine the email address
Legitimate companies send emails through a server coming from their company’s official website, for example, email@example.com for Amazon, or firstname.lastname@example.org for Microsoft. But if you see a long line of numbers in front of the @ sign, or the name before the name of a free email service before the.com or any other domain, your Spidey sense should be tingling.
Be wary of emails that order you to do something right NOW or within a few hours. Be also on guard if there are a lot of grammatical and spelling errors within the body of an email. Legitimate companies hire marketing professionals that double check their work. Most spammers won’t take the time to make sure their message makes sense.
Delete emails that ask for personal information
Most organizations you deal with usually say they’re never going to ask for personal information in an email, and you should believe them. They don’t need to ask for your personal details because it is usually in their database. So if you get an email asking for any personal information, reach for the delete button ASAP.
Notice the email greeting
The sender of an email from a legitimate company will address you directly, using either your first or last name. If you get an email where they refer to you as a valued customer, or as a dear member of so and so organization, you are looking at spam. Senders of genuine emails will address you directly because they want to get your attention, and also because it is the polite thing to do.
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See something fishy? Report all illegal emails to the Federal Trade Commission. The spam emails are in violation of the CAN-SPAM act, a law that sets the rules for commercial email, establishes requirements for commercial messages, and spells out tough penalties for violations. According to the CAN-SPAM act, it is illegal to :
- Use false or misleading heading information.
- Deceptive subject lines.
- Not identify your email as an ad.
- Hide your location, your email must include a valid physical postal address whether its a street address or post office box registered.
- Not include how recipients can opt out of receiving future email from you.
- Honor an opt-out request after 10 business days. It is also illegal to charge an opt-out fee.
You can check out the other guidelines posted on the Federal Trade Commission’s official website (ftc.gov).
Does Spam Work?
In 2004, Bill Gates said, “two years from now, spam will be solved.” That obviously didn’t happen. 15 years later, we are still dealing with spam in a big way. 14.5 billion spam emails are sent everyday, and for every 12.5 million spam emails, one person responds.
If a spam recipient buys something, the spammer gets a percentage of the sale. For pharmaceuticals, the commission can be up to 50 percent! This means that spammers make a lot of money.
In fact, in 2007, a retired spammer told some media outlets he would make $10,000 to $15,000 a week sending emails that promoted casinos, pills, and even porn.
How Does Spam Work?
All it takes is a fast look in your spam folder to see that online spammers have no problem finding out your email address. Just how are they able to do that? We’ll tell you how. Here are a few of the common ways spammers can get your email address :
Spammers use web crawlers, an Internet bot that systematically browses the World Wide Web, to search for any email address they can find.
Unsubscribing From Spam Emails
Spammers use random email generators to send out tons of emails to tons of email addresses. The moment you click “unsubscribe” you’re sending out the signal to the spammer that your email address is a valid email address.
Loading Images In HTML Emails
Spammers are so devious, they will do anything and everything in their power to get what they want, from buying information illegally to embedding a tracker inside an image pixel. The small tracker is called a web beacon or web bug and its placed inside one pixel of an image.
When you click an email and load the image, the nasty beacon passes the information from your PC to the place where it originated. If your email displays HTML content, which it does automatically unless you’ve set it not to, then these little web bugs can be tripped when an image is loaded. All you’ve got to do is open spammy HTML email, and you’re done for.
Other Types Of Spam
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In the earlier parts of the article, we mentioned spam exists on almost all electronic mediums. Let’s get more into that starting with the device we use the most, our mobile phones. Spam text messages and spam calls are about as welcome as junk mail and webcam spies, are we right, or are we right?
What Are Spam Texts
Spam text messages are unsolicited text messages that often contain links to malicious websites designed to steal your personal details or illegally obtain money from you. How to stop spam texts? If you receive a spam text, do not reply or forward it or click on any link. Take a screenshot for proof, then delete the message immediately. To stop getting these kinds of texts, contact your mobile service provider.
You have every right to have these types of messages banned from your phones, based on a rule set by the Federal Trade Commission it is ILLEGAL to send unsolicited commercial text messages to a wireless device.
You’re at the office, and you get a call from a telemarketer for the nth time that day,invading your privacy and making you lose your cool. Sounds familiar? Spam calls or telemarketing calls are irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent over the phone to a large number of recipients. Not only are spam calls annoying, they are also dangerous.
Spam calls have been around forever, but they are still on the rise. Spam calls were the number one complaint sent to the Federal Trade Commission in 2017. More than 7 million complaints were filed against telemarketers and spam callers. Not much has changed since then. But there is good news.. you can take several steps to battle those annoying, devious callers.
Block Spam Calls
One strategy is to block spam calls. Most Android and iPhones come with built-in features for blocking specific phone numbers. For iPhones, open the phone all, tap Recents, then click on the Info icon beside the number you want to block. Click on Block This caller, then click on Block contact.
For Android phones, the steps may vary based on the device and operating system of the device. Open the Phone app and pick Recent Calls. Tap the number you want to block, then click on the command that says Block Or Report As Spam. Once you’re done with that, confirm the message asking if you want to block the number.
What Are The Harmful Effects Of Email Spam?
Going back to email spam, throughout the length of this discussion you might be thinking, since everyone gets spam, how bad can email spam be? Once you see it, you can just delete and it will be gone from your life forever. Unfortunately, the dangers of spam email are more than what we see. Once it reaches a certain device, it can create great damage :
Eating Up Bandwidth Space
Spam emails often carry malicious downloads and eat up a lot of bandwidth, which is not good if you have download limitations. Spam emails also take up a lot of storage space and processor time.
Spammers often use spyware to get into your computer system to steal private information such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, etc. Spammers may also use spyware to monitor your browsing activities and the programs you use.
Did you know it takes an average of 16 seconds to identify and delete a spam email? Imagine all the time wasted considering the amount of spam emails you receive daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly.
Spreading Other Scans
Some spammers use phishing techniques in their emails. You can read more about phishing emails in another article we’ve published on the site.
Mitigating a security breach will take its toll on your time and resources, and sometimes, even if your devices start up after cleaning your system post-scam, the virus might still survive in your system.
How To Avoid Getting Spammed
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Spam email, spam text messages, and spam calls aren’t just a nuisance, they’re a serious threat to many consumers. Dangerous as they may be, you’d be happy to know they are also avoidable. To keep spam out of your life, it all boils down to being careful and having the right tools. That said, here are a list of practical steps you can take to keep spam email from arriving in your inbox :
1. Don’t Click On Strange Links
If you receive an email from a source you don’t recognize, DO NOT click on any links or images inside the email. That link could be a malicious link, and by clicking on the link, your response will show spammers that your email address is active. Once spammers identify your email address is active, they will send you MORE spam.
2. Avoid Signing Up For Newsletters Or Promos From Suspicious Companies
Some companies share, or even sell their marketing lists to other businesses. Be careful what you sign up for, and where you share your email address. If you want to join an email newsletter subscription to, say, your favorite restaurant or favorite band, consider using a different email address just for that purpose.
3. Hide Your E-Mail Address
Keep your email address hidden online, unless you absolutely have to reveal it. Don’t show your email address on your social media websites or on Internet forums. You can always privately send your email address to individuals and companies you trust once they ask for it. The more careful you are about sharing your email, the harder it will be for spammers to spot you.
4. Get Good Internet Security Software
In today’s world where almost every type of task is produced digitally, getting good Internet security software is a really worthy investment. Many forms of Internet security software are capable of detecting and blocking email spams. Some are even capable of analyzing email history and giving daily spam reports!
Getting your own Internet Security Software will be really very helpful. Most of the time when we are busy with work or school, we don’t get to monitor what goes on in our computers. Sometimes we think our computer or tablet is doing okay, until we mistakenly click on a link or open an attachment, accidentally importing a virus.
So to help you make the right choice, we’ve rounded up a list of Internet security products with strong anti-spam features. Count on them to help keep your computer safe for years to come :
McAfee Internet Security
McAfee Internet Security fights virus and online threats with a combination of offline and cloud based protection built to secure users’ online privacy and online identities. One of the product’s main features is its built-in Anti-Spam Filter which checks your incoming email messages to determine if they are legitimate. Email that Anti-Spam recognizes as unsolicited is labeled and then moved to a separate folder.
McAfee Internet Security also allows you to customize how it detects spam. You can filter messages and pick the character sets you want to block, and you can also create custom filters to identify which messages the Anti-Spam feature will flag as spam. For example, you can include the word “Bitcoin,” in your filter, and all the emails with the word “Bitcoin,” will be flagged.
Bitdefender Internet Security
Bitdefender Internet Security provides complete protection to Windows through its innovative features that predict, prevent, and fight the latest cyber threats including spam, and malware.
To fight spam, the security program relies heavily on its anti-spam mechanism which blocks mail from known spammer domains, and performs tests on all message components while simultaneously searching for words, phrases, links and other potential spammy characteristics.
Trend Micro Maximum Security
Trend Micro Maximum Security provides total online security and antivirus protection for your computers, tablets, and other devices. The Internet security software also protects against online threats such as malware, ransomware, spyware and spam.
In order to keep devices free from spam, the security software detects emails with phishing scams that trick users into revealing confidential information like credit card details, email addresses, etc
Bitdefender Total Security 2020
Bitdefender Total Security 2020 provides multi-layered protection from all existing online threats across all major operating systems. The software is equipped with an Anti-spam feature which filters irrelevant messages in your inbox, and an advanced anti-phishing component which sniffs out websites that pretend to be trustworthy in order to steal private financial information.
Once an online scammer sends a spam email with a malicious phishing link, Bitdefender automatically notifies the user of its presence.
AVG Internet Security
AVG Internet Security is advanced security software that prevents spam, virus, spyware, malware, and other malicious threats from infecting your PC. The well-known antivirus provider protects the email accounts of homes and businesses through its Email Shield Technology which blocks dangerous email attachments.
AVG Internet Security also comes with a link scanner which scans links sent to users through email and other means, as well as a Fake Website Shield feature. The Fake Website Shield feature helps users avoid fake websites by redirecting them to a real website when they accidentally go to a fake one.
In spite of all the warnings and horror stories floating around on the Web, many Internet users still see spam as a nuisance rather than a real danger. Until a virus invades their computer or their personal information is stolen. Then they wake up.
Truth be told, we’ve only got ourselves to blame. Our machines don’t do the work for us. We click on the malicious links, we leave our personal information lying around online. Spammers feed on our carelessness, but if we don’t give them the bait, they’ve got nothing to chomp on.
If we follow all the precautions, put on all the right armor, (or in this case the right software), we’ve got a very good chance at beating this thing. For good.