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How to fight junk e-mail

Internet service providers and filtering companies such as Brightmail are on the front lines of fighting spam. But there are many things that consumers can do.

Prevention

+ Set up multiple e-mail addresses. Use one for personal e-mail and one or more disposable ones _ those you would not mind abandoning if need be _ when registering at Web sites, posting to news groups or taking part in chat sessions.

+ Do not allow your e-mail address to be included in online membership directories; if it is listed, ask that it be removed.

+ Review a Web site's privacy policy when you submit your address to it. Check whether the company says it will sell or give your address or others. You may want to opt out of this provision, which usually involves checking a box that denies the site permission to sell or give away your address. Or use a disposable e-mail address instead.

+ Try using a complex e-mail address. Spammers use "dictionary attacks" to sort through possible name combinations at large Internet service providers and e-mail services in the hope of finding valid addresses. Yournameemail.com, for example, is an easy target; your2name4email.com is harder for a spammer to discover.

Blocking

+ Some ISP and free e-mail services offer junk-mail filtering. Be aware, however, that these services often end up filtering out desirable bulk e-mail (from interest-group mailing lists, for example) along with spam.

+ An e-mail program can be set up manually with filters to catch incoming spam. This works best with spam messages that you receive repeatedly. You can set a filter to catch e-mail by subject line or sender, but it requires constant updating as spammers work their way around the filters.

+ Filtering programs such as Spam Interceptor, MailSifter and Spam Detective, available for less than $100, can run defensively between your actual mailbox on a server and your desktop e-mail program. This can slow down mail retrieval as each piece of e-mail is examined while you pull in the incoming mail. Frequent updating is also required.

+ Services such as Spamfire (www.spamfire.com) and Clean My Mailbox (www.cleanmymailbox.com) work directly with your e-mail server for $10 to $30 a month. Software periodically probes your In box, examining each message and using algorithms to determine the probability of its being junk mail, then removes those it considers spam. The main problem is that your mail server has to be accessible to the probe, and that is usually not the case with company e-mail systems or free online services.

+ Some companies, such as Spamex, offer subscription services that help you protect your real e-mail address by creating multiple disposable addresses to use instead.

Responding

+ Spam can be forwarded to uceftc.gov. The FTC collects spam and uses the database to prosecute cases.

+ Many state attorneys general also collect spam complaints so they can pursue lawsuits against spammers engaged in fraudulent or deceptive marketing.

+ Complaints can be sent to the sender's service provider. This may take some detective work because the return address may not be where the e-mail originated. A good explanation of how to determine the origin of a junk e-mail message is available at spam.abuse.net/userhelp/ howtocomplain.shtml.

+ Some services, such as Spam Punisher (www.spampunisher.com), will help you automatically generate spam complaints for a fee.

+ If you want to contact congressional representatives about antispam legislation, letters are more effective than e-mail.

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