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Computer Care: Foil spam with filters, dual e-mail accounts
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Along with error messages, system crashes and blue screens of death, let’s add spam to the list of things you don’t want to see on your computer. Aside from it being a tasty luncheon meat, spam is the unwanted 90 billion junk e-mails we all get in our inboxes daily.

Incorrectly, the spam acronym has been deciphered as Stop Pornography and Abusive Marketing or Superfluous Pieces of Additional (or Annoying) Mail. Originating from an old Monty Python Viking skit, it actually doesn’t stand for anything.

Officially, it is referred to as UCE, which does stand for Unsolicited Commercial E-mail.

There are various ways to cut down on this onslaught of excessive junk mail. Some are defensive, others proactive. To begin with the most basic, I suggest you sign up with an Internet Service Provider that offers spam protection. Gmail is one of them. Everyone I know with a Gmail account doesn’t have much of a spam problem. It apparently filters well.

Aside from relying on the ISP filtering your mail, you can get a program to do it at your end. There are many on the market, some free. Mailwasher, available at mailwasher.net, is a good free one; another is Spamfighter Standard, found at spamfighter.com. They also offer a paid version with more bells and whistles for $29.

Most programs learn as you use them. You train them to know what is good or bad e-mail. They have "Approve" and "Block" buttons in a toolbar on your e-mail client.

If you do use an anti-spam program, don’t trust it completely. It will have false positives from time to time. By that, I mean that when you check your spam box, you may find an e-mail from someone the program thought should be isolated, but in fact is a friend of yours. It scans for address types and certain keywords in the body of the mail. It’s always a good idea to scan even the rejected mail for something that may not be spam.

Many security suites have anti-spam filters built in to them. You may have an anti-virus or spyware program that already has spam protection, so check it out before you add something else.

The easiest way to prevent spam from getting to you is by being careful. Get two e-mail accounts. Use one exclusively for online registrations and to sign up for newsletters, chat rooms or bulletin boards. Use the other only for your friends and those you trust. Just remember which is which.

You might consider naming your alternate account with something like (your_name)temp@blank.com or (yourname)signup@blank.com, whatever works for you. Once your address is out on the net, it spreads, so be careful. Many companies buy and sell e-mail lists regularly.

When you do sign up for something, be aware of the checkboxes near the submit button. By default, they remain checked. That gives the site owner permission to use or sell your personal information, including your e-mail address. All you have to do is uncheck them before you submit the form.

In some instances, you can use a fake e-mail address to sign up for things. If they just want you to register and are not sending you a link to activate an account, make up an address. I’ve used bob101@xyz.com and got away with it.

Use free e-mail accounts and treat them as disposable. When you begin to get too much spam, toss the address and get another. Aside from Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo also offer free accounts.

Even paid accounts will allow multiple e-mail addresses. One of my ISPs is Charter, which allows five addresses per account. You could always delete the abused one and add a new one on a rotating basis.

Don’t respond to spam or click on any links in the message. Just delete it. Once the spammers know you are there, their mail will be relentless. Many times you’ll see a link to click for address removal. Don’t do it. Also don’t reply with "Remove" as the subject or ask to be removed. Again, all it does it confirm that they’ve hit a live address.

No matter what type of spam you receive, by no means should you ever threaten anyone, not even the Nigerian minister of the treasury.

Programs, filters or whatnot, by far the easiest way to cut down on this nuisance is to have multiple e-mail addresses. It is the least amount of effort, the most effective, and like my advice, it’s free.

Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville. His column appears biweekly. E-mail Arthur with your computer questions or suggestions for future topics.

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