Stealth surfing

No matter how cautiously you fill in personal information forms to register at sites you visit often, junk e-mail seems sure to follow.

Create an extra address: avoid revealing your main e-mail address at Web sites and online message boards. Sign up at a free e-mail service like Excite Mail, Hotmail, or Juno and use that address when you register at sites. The free address will then become a receptacle for spam. These services let you filter out known bulk e-mailers, so you can reduce the flow further. Bulk e-mailers often use software to harvest e-mail addresses from sites, so limit the use of your regular e-mail address when you post messages online or list a contact e-mail address on your own Web site.

Read before you sign: some online merchants try to trick you into con-senting to receive e-mails in which you have no interest. Your defence is to carefully read the wording of any check box that refers to "news of updates" or "news from select partners". It's often hard to tell whether you need to click or unclick a check mark to opt out of the mailing list.

Unsubscribe cautiously: once you're on a legitimate company's mailing list, it's usually not difficult to unsubscribe. Typically, the unwanted message includes instructions to e-mail your request to a special address or to reply to the message with the word "unsubscribe" in the subject area. But be warned: if the message obviously came from a bulk e-mailer (a mail subject line with a sensational promise or lurid appeal such as "Make Big $$$" or "XXX Girls" is usually a giveaway), don't follow the unsubscribe instructions. Doing so just verifies that your e-mail address is active, which makes it more valuable for unscrupulous people to resell.

Set up filters: blocking messages from bulk e-mailers requires a filter. In Outlook Express, select Tools-Rules Wizard and set up a folder for junk mail (such as your Deleted Items folder); then right-click any in-box message you don't like the looks of, and select Junk E-mail-Add to Junk Senders. This consigns future mail from that address to your junk mail folder. In Eudora 4.2, right-click an open message or message summary, and choose Make Filter from the menu. Use the Make Filter dialogue to instruct Eudora to delete messages like the one that you've selected. In Netscape, select Edit-Message Filters, and identify criteria that mark a message as unwanted mail. These identifying marks may include the sender's e-mail address, initials as a heading, multiple exclamation marks, or words such as "quick bucks" in the content.

Set up industrial-strength filters: if your address ends up being sold to bulk e-mailers, you need software that maintains lists to filter "out bulk e-mailer add- resses and message con-tent. The shareware Spam Buster and the trial download SpamKiller were reviewed in the feature "Wham, bam, no thank you spam" (PC World December 1999, page 77) and trial downloads were available on the December cover CD. Spam Buster intercepts more messages than SpamKiller, including some that aren't junk mail, but you can preview intercepted files before deleting them. Both programs provide a button you can click to report abuse of an e-mail account to the domain's postmaster.

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