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Spam fighting tips for the new year

Use filters and email alternatives, and even strike back at spammers

Things change fast in the spam world. Spam slayers need to stay nimble to keep pace with rapidly adapting spammers and new virus threats.

Nobody expects a lull in the spam onslaught in 2005. Here are some new inbox tips and strategies to help you stay ahead in the new year.

  • Avoid using email: IM instead
    Time spent resending email that was lost in a mountain of spam, or accidentally identified as spam manually by the recipient, or zapped by an over-zealous spam filter can cripple personal and business communications. Consider asking an associate or friend to use an instant messaging client to swap short missives. Instant messaging is an effective alternative to the imperfect email medium.

  • Be prudent With e-newsletters
    Signing up for electronic newsletters is sometimes an invitation for unwanted email from advertisers. Be prudent about who you give your email address to. Better yet, using a Really Simple Syndication reader is a great alternative to newsletter clutter in your inbox.

    Along with breaking-news headlines from online versions of many publications, RSS feeds can deliver everything from industry-specific news and weather alerts to listings of new arrivals at your favorite record store or auction gallery.

    Try the free program Feedreader to get started. If you use Mozilla's Firefox browser, consider its Thunderbird, a stand-alone email client with a built-in RSS reader. And as for content, Feedster offers a directory of available feeds.

  • Strive for inbox efficiency
    You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but you can often judge an email by its subject line. And important messages with uninformative or vague subject lines can get lost in crowded inboxes.

    One way to rise above the email din is by providing short, specific information in your subject line: for example, "Please Call Me ASAP: 020 7234 5678" or "Proposal is in the mail". This shorthand keeps you from blathering and gets your message across to inbox scanners who seldom open their email.

  • Get organised
    Inboxes are typically in a state of chaos, cluttered with once-important messages that are now nowhere to be found. To tame your inbox and sort the email gems from the spam, try using one of a growing number of free desktop search tools.

    Desktop search offerings such as Terra Lycos's HotBot Desktop, Google Desktop Search and MSN Toolbar Suite each create searchable indexes of your email. In just a matter of seconds, you can find that long-lost email from your boss about the promised bonus you never saw.

  • Leverage the power of free email
    Some web-based email systems like Google's Gmail and Yahoo's Yahoo Mail allow you to configure your client-side computer software to retrieve messages from your web-based account. The advantages are twofold. First, you can read and compose your messages offline. Second, you can take advantage of powerful spam, virus and phishing filters.

    I can use Microsoft Outlook Express to retrieve mail already screened by my online Gmail account. The downside is that I must log on to the Gmail service directly to check my junk mail folder for legitimate email that Gmail blocked.

    You don't have to use Outlook Express; Gmail works with a variety of email software programs, including Eudora and Apple Mail. It's easy to set up Gmail forwarding to your client. First, log on to your Gmail account. Next, click the Settings link, then select the "Forwarding and Pop" tab and follow the configuration instructions. With Yahoo Mail, you must activate server-side spam filtering for POP access so you don't get inundated by spam.

  • Resolve to fight spam
    Unlike many other New Year resolutions, this one requires only a modicum of willpower to keep. If you've ever wanted to fight spam more actively than simply hitting Delete, here's what you can do: Become a spam cop.

    Email security hardware vendor IronPort Systems maintains a reporting service called SpamCop.net. SpamCop depends on a community of people who diligently report spam when they get it. That list of spam messages helps create the SpamCop Blocking List used by many email filters. You need only sign up at SpamCop.net to become a reporter. The next time spam lands in your in-box, simply forward the message to a SpamCop email address.


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