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The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Spam Emails

reduce spamIt is an inescapable fact of life that if you are connected to the internet and you use email as a form of communication, you will have received spam emails at some time or another. You might be one of the lucky ones who has rarely ever received spam emails or you might be constantly inundated with this annoying marketing activity.

These low-quality, unsolicited nondescript messages fill up our inboxes on a daily basis and not only are they annoying, but they cause us to waste valuable time sorting through and deleting them. Spam emails are a worldwide problem and the 2014 November Report from Symantec has revealed that the global spam rate was 54.6% in November.

This means that 1 in 2 emails sent to people around the world are spam emails. That is a huge number of unsolicited emails, however on a more positive note this rate has dropped from 71% a year ago to the current 54.6%.

So what can you do to eliminate or at least reduce the number of spam emails in your inbox?

First let’s take a look at what spam actually is and the laws in Australia that can help protect you, if you believe you are being spammed. Then we will list a number of steps you can take to reduce the amount of spam you receive in your inbox.

Australia: The Spam Act 2003

You might not be aware that Australia actually has laws against spamming, which is defined in the Act as “unsolicited commercial electronic messages with an Australian link”. The Act goes on to explain that an Australian link means that the email originated in Australia, was commissioned in Australia or was sent from overseas to an Australian address.

The Act covers unsolicited emails, mobile phone text messages, multimedia messaging and instant messaging. Commercial electronic messages are defined as containing information that:

  • Advertises the supply of goods, services, land, business or investment opportunities.
  • Advertises the supplier of goods, services, land, business or investment opportunities.
  • Assists a person to dishonestly gain from another person, for example to obtain property or a commercial advantage.

The whole point is that these electronic messages are sent out to many people at the same time, without the consent or the inferred consent of the recipient.

Express consent vs. inferred consent

The definitions of these two different types of consent are clearly explained by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) who are responsible for enforcing the Spam Act, 2003.

Express consent: This can be obtained by the person filling out a form, giving their verbal consent in person or over the phone or ticking a box or subscribing on a website. The person must be made aware however, that they are giving their consent to receive commercial messages in the future.

Inferred consent: If a person is a member of a club or a subscriber to a service, so that an ongoing relationship exists, then consent to receiving commercial messages can be inferred. Also, if you publish your email address on a website or on some form of print media, unless you clearly state that you do not want to receive commercial messages, your consent can be inferred – but only to receive commercial messages related to your line of work.

Under the Spam Act, 2003, businesses cannot email or SMS you unless they have already obtained your express or inferred consent. They cannot contact you electronically or digitally to ask for your consent to receive commercial messages, as this in itself is considered to be spam.

Unsubscribing from email lists

Under the Spam Act, 2003, every commercial message must make it easy for recipients to unsubscribe from their mailing list and clearly indicate how to do so. A request to unsubscribe, must be honoured within 5 working days.

The problem here is that many spammers will include a unsubscribe link in their emails, which actually doesn’t work. What it does do is tell spammers that your email is active and can lead to even more spam emails.

So how can you reduce spam emails?

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner advices that the first step is to not reply to any spam communications. Apparently, the purpose of many spam emails is to test whether the email is active and if you reply they will inundate you with further spam messages. It is recommended that you delete spam emails and if you know the business who has sent them, to contact them and ask to be removed from their mailing list.

Here are a number of other options you can use to reduce spam emails:

  • Encoded emails: This is useful, but not totally infallible, and can be used when you place your email address publically on websites. Essentially, to the naked eye your email address looks exactly the same as always, but spam bots that crawl the internet picking up email addresses, won’t be able to read your encoded email address.

    It’s not infallible because some ingenious and persistent spammers may be able to work their way around this encoding, if they are willing to invest their time and energy in doing so. The majority of spammers don’t bother however, because there are already enough readable emails for them to cull.

    The encoding involves replacing your email with ‘character entities’, for example my email address is: phil@heffernanwebdesigns.com.au, which if encoded, would look like the following to spam bots:

    phil@heffern
    anwebdesigns
    .com.au

    This encoding was created with a free tool you can access here: http://www.wbwip.com/wbw/emailencoder.html

  • Block images: Some email applications automatically download attached images or other external content in messages, when you open the message. This indicates to the server that your email is valid and can result in your email address being sold to spammers. To prevent this happening, you can block images in your email from automatically being downloaded. This still gives you the ability to download the images from trusted sources, whilst blocking many forms of spam.

  • Email filters: Make sure that the email application you use has a spam filter and that it is turned on. This facility channels all suspected spam to a separate spam folder, which you can examine at your leisure or simply bulk delete. Again, these filters are not infallible and you may find trusted emails in amongst the spam folder, but it will greatly reduce the number of spam emails in your inbox. Also, many ISPs are now providing spam filters, so check with your service provider and ask them how they handle spam emails.

  • Separate email accounts: You can use different email addresses for your personal email, your work email and one for online shopping, subscriptions, eNewsletters, coupons and other internet services. This way, your inbox is mainly free from spam and you can take your time going through the shopping inbox, filtering out spam emails.

  • Check privacy policies: Before you subscribe to an eNewsletter or enter your email address on any website, read their privacy policy and check whether they say that they will or will not sell your email address. If they absolutely do not sell email addresses, more often than not they will state this fact, if only as an encouragement to garner your email address for their own business.

  • Use privacy settings: If you frequent social networking websites, you can set your personal details, such as your email address, to remain hidden from public view. Also, don’t include your email address in comments on social networking sites. If you want to contact someone privately, most social sites allow you to privately message (PM) other members.

  • Don’t preview emails: Some email applications, for example Microsoft Outlook, allow you to preview an email without actually opening it. The problem with previews is this can tell the spammer that your email is active and lead to even more spam messages. So don’t preview emails and have your filters in place.

Hopefully, these steps will dramatically reduce the amount of spam you receive in your inbox.

Remember, that if you wish to make a complaint about spam, you can do so at the ACMA website or call them on 1300 855 180.