Most email services can weed out junk from known spam servers, but your PC could become part of a botnet – a network of hijacked machines used to send spam. Keep your browser up to date; preferably use Internet Explorer 7.0, Firefox or Opera. Ensure your router’s firewall is enabled.
Never, ever reply to a spam email. It may be tempting to tell a pernicious spammer exactly where to get off, but replying merely confirms that your email address is a live one and you are a real human person. This makes you very attractive to internet criminals. When spam pops into your inbox, delete it unopened.
To avoid spam and track down spammers, set up a disposable account for each online transaction – that’s when you’re most vulnerable. We’ll use MSN Hotmail. Go to tinyurl.com/yk2dhf and click Sign up, Get it free. Make up an address that includes the firm you’re about to do business with and check its availability.
Fill in the required fields. Activate your inbox. This address exists to harvest spam, so give it only to the company you’re dealing with. Supply that address when you make an online purchase. If you receive any spam, you’ll know it came from that company and can avoid it in future. Close the spammed account.
Gmail has a feature to take the hassle out of this process. Add ‘+anyword’ to your address (firstname.lastname@example.org, for instance) when you give out your details. Email to this address will pop into your usual inbox. If I get any email sent to the address in the picture, I’ll know it comes via PC Advisor (I won’t, by the way).
The down side is that if you reply to any such spam, it will come from your usual address and the spammer will have your real details. To automatically delete emails sent to the address you set up, click Create a filter (it’s above your inbox). Put the address in the To field and hit next. Then tick Delete it and hit Create Filter.
Yahoo gives a better service as part of its £12-per-year Mail Plus (there’s a free trial). Go to Mail Options, Spam, Set up a disposable address. Select a single, unique prefix for all of the addresses you’re going to create, then add a specific suffix for each one (I used email@example.com).
Choose what happens to mail sent to your disposable address. I set up a folder away from my inbox for spam to drop into via the ‘Deliver to’ drop-down menu, and chose a colour to mark them. Message filters and SpamGuard are enabled by default and you can choose to send emails from your disposable address.
Anonymizer Nyms is a standalone program that allows you to create an address ending with ‘nyms.net’ for each transaction. Mail sent to that address pops into your existing account, and replies appear to come from Nyms.net. Grab the trial version from www.anonymizer.com.
Provide a username, password and active email address. Click Nyms on the lefthand pane, enter your disposable address and save. Mail to this address will be flagged and sent on to your normal email (I set up an Outlook rule to delete it). Replies can be sent from your normal address, or via the Nyms dashboard.