What is Spam ?
Spam is unwanted, unsolicited, junk email that is sent to you and me without our consent. It is usually obnoxious and sometimes obscene. It clogs up the internet and wastes our time when we have to sort and delete messages from our inbox.
How do the spammers get our email address?
Spammers get lists of email addresses in several ways, however most of the addresses are harvested from your email address attached to usenet postings in newsgroups and from your email postings on web pages. Every time that you give out your email address when researching genealogy, it has the chance of getting harvested by the spammers. For example, Surname Lists on GenWeb County sites usually contain a "mailto:" link back to the surname submitter. Try using a search engine such as Google and search for your own email address on both the Web and Newsgroups. I found my own email address on at least 50 web pages and on more than 15 archived Newsgroup messages. If you subscribe to any Lists, these messages may be archived on open web sites for the harvester robots (Spambots) to use. The better Lists keep their archives protected from being spidered by spambots or search engines. Your email address may also be purchased by Spammers from unscrupulous List-owners. Be careful what you join!
How can I prevent them from spamming me ?
There are several ways. Some methods just delete the spam as it arrives in your inbox, but this is less than ideal and far from foolproof. Other methods are more complicated and involve some expertise in writing Perl script or Java for your website. Here are some steps that you can take, ranging from very easy to fairly complicated:
1. Avoid posting your email address on Usenet messages.
If you have already posted using your email address, you may think that it is too late. However, Google has a way for you to delete your postings from the Google Groups (Usenet) Archive IF you are still using the same email address when you originally posted the message. Just go to Google Groups Help, and find Question #12 (How can I remove articles from Google's archive?). They have a link to an Automatic Removal Tool, that allows you to log on and remove your old posts. (when doing the actual removal it is helpful to have 2 browser windows open, and toggle back and forth between search and remove)
If you want to post to the Usenet groups, try using a fake, temporary or protected email address. Sometimes, people add extra letters to their real address, then tell people in the body of the message how to reply by deleting these letters. Also, you could use your website to refer replies to, if it contains your protected email address. (Hint: create an image file of your email address and post on your web site)
2. Avoid posting your email address on other web sites.
When adding your surname to a County's web page, or when asking someone to list you as a researcher for a particular name or location, you usually have to give them your email address if you want other researchers to contact you. The best way to do this is to give them your website URL only, or ask them to post your surname with extra letters added, such as email@example.com, then somewhere in the posting tell people to delete the "nospam" before replying. Also, if you have a protected email address, such as SpamCop offers, use that. Some people like to use Hotmail or Yahoo accounts, then abandon them when the spam gets too bad, however, legitimate researchers will not be able to find you if you do this.
If you have already used your primary email address when posting messages to County or Surname web pages, then you really only have 2 choices: Change your email address OR politely ask the administrator to delete or edit your posting. Most County administrators are happy to edit their pages when asked. (although you may need to remind them a few times !)
3. Use Subject or Sender filters (rules) for incoming mail.
This option is available for most email software, such as Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora, Lotus Notes 5, etc. However, some software may not be able to do this (such as Lotus Notes 4). Filtering obscene email is easy - just add a rule to delete the message for each naughty word in the subject line! Obnoxious spam is a little harder, but if you see the same advertisement over and over for "ink jet refills" or "investigate anyone", these are also easy to filter. The harder ones are the ones that don't have any text on the subject line, or have a few non-offensive words that you would be unlikely to filter. (You don't want to accidently delete a message from someone that may give you 10 new branches of your family!) Probably the best way to filter messages, is to move either the unwanted or wanted messages into a separate folder, then look at the subject line or sender before deleting. I usually filter all of the incoming messages with my name in the "TO" or in the "BODY" areas into a "Sorted" folder.
4. Don't use "mailto:" when placing your own email address on your web pages.
This may sound difficult, but there are several other ways to place your email where legitimate researchers can find it and spambots can't. One way is to create an image (JPEG or GIF) which displays your email address. Call it EMAIL.GIF or something similar, and use it on any of your web pages. Researchers will have to write it down and manually type it into their email software, however spambots will never see it.
Another option is to place the "mailto:" within an image map. I'm not sure if this works, however I have had an image map link to my son's email address at Iowa State on my index page for 1 1/2 years, and Google can't seem to find it.
5. Provide Spambots with thousands of fake and useless email addresses from your web page.
Some people call this "poisoning". The object of "poisoning" is to try to fool the "harvesters" or "spambots" into accepting lots and lots of completely fake and useless email addresses, so long as the bogus addresses appear to reside in (or are linked from) ordinary nondescript web pages. Depending upon how the harvester code is written, hopefully, the thousands (or millions) of fake addresses will either cause the spambot to completely ignore the page, or generate tons of bounced emails for them.
The random fake emails on your page may be generated by a CGI program or you may just copy and paste these from other anti-spam web sites. Another option is to provide links on your web pages to the anti-spam web sites that contain these fake email addresses, as the spambot will follow all the links on your page.
Useful Links and Example Pages
Here are a few links to anti-spam web sites and ordinary web sites that are successfully using anti-spam tactics.
NEW! IAGenWeb Coordinator Email Address Scramble Options from Jeff & Rich Lowe and Nettie Mae
HostedScripts.Com This site contains information on "poisoning" and has a page of randomly generated emails.
Wpoison This site also has information and scripts for "poisoning".
Spambots Beware! Lots of information on Spambots.
Web site of Phil Karras, KE3FL Phil has examples of a Java-generated "mailto:" on his site. (pages 69-70, QST magazine Dec 2001)
Eldersong.Com Another of Phil's pages with Java examples
Alchemy Mindworkshop See the paragraphs under "How the Hell Did They Find Me?"
SpamCon foundation Lots of Legal information on spamming
SpamCop Has a protected email service, and ways to report spam
Spamex Has a protected email service
A Genealogy War Against Spam!
As George W. has started his War Against Terrorism, this is the start of my Genealogy War Against Spam! If anyone has other information that they would like to share, please email me (safely).
Example Email Links:
(Image-map with mailto: link)
mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org (added letters)
(image file with embedded email address)
Link to spam-protected E-mail page: Click Here (look at html source)
Fake Email Address Examples:
(more to come .....)