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dot life Monday, 5 August, 2002, 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK
How to keep your life junk free
Form filling, BBC
Be careful when you surrender personal information

Junk mail gets you through your letterbox, your inbox, and increasingly through your phone. But there are some simple steps to cut it out.
You, and every detail of your life, are valuable - especially to the people who sell stuff.

Your name, age, occupation, salary, phone number, e-mail address, number of dependents, almost every detail that defines you, is coveted by direct marketers.

When you hand over this information, unwittingly or otherwise, the result is usually junk mail.

Top Five Tips
Guard personal information closely
Never respond to junk mail
Set up disposable e-mail addresses
Filter spam and monitor cookies
Get your name on opt-out databases
But there are simple steps to limit the amount of unwanted junk you get. For it is, at best, a waste of dead trees and, at worst, something that may endanger a respondent's life.

In the past decade, first faxes and increasingly by e-mail, many have received messages asking for help to "rescue" money.

The communication usually comes from Nigeria and is called 419 fraud after the section of the Nigerian penal code dealing with such criminal schemes.

Some may think that such a blatant come-on would net few victims, but 419 fraud is a vibrant industry in many countries. The US Secret Service estimates that it "grosses hundreds of millions of dollars annually".

Some of those taken in by it have been murdered to stop them identifying the conmen.

The lesson to learn here is never to respond to the blandishments of junk mailers, even when they say a response will mean you are left alone.

Live and dangerous

This is just as true for the mail coming through the letterbox as for the e-mail in an inbox.

Text message on a mobile phone, PA
Now even mobiles get spam
Once the junk mailers know there is someone behind an e-mail address, fax or phone number it can become harder to avoid their attentions.

However, it is worth distinguishing here between legitimate direct mail and random spam.

Perhaps you could not decide whether to tick a box which asked you not to mark it only if you did not want to accept the chance to refuse to choose to have your details shared with other unnamed companies. (Confused? That's the marketers' intention)

In the UK the Direct Marketing Association can help limit the amount of this type of junk mail you receive.

It operates a series of lists and directories of those who do not want to receive direct mail, faxes or phone calls. Sign up for these "preference services" and the amount of legitimate junk could drop off.

Choose and control

The DMA started the It's Your Choice campaign to let people know their rights and has set up a series of websites detailing how to get on the lists and stop the spam.

If a direct marketer keeps sending junk, complain to the Information Commissioner which has imposed fines on incorrigible mailers.

Monty Python artwork, BBC/Python Pictures
Monty Python never sang the praises of e-mail version of spam
A spokeswoman for the DMA says that the current regime means that people must choose to opt out of receiving mail, hence the need for the directories.

New EU laws, due to come in by October 2003, will mean that you have to opt in to get junk mail.

Tactics to avoid the legitimate stuff also include ensuring your number is unlisted, or even ex-directory. That way it will not show up on the databases direct marketers buy.

Alternatively, ask to be put on a company's "don't call" list when a marketer calls.

Websites like Junkbusters offer other tips and good advice.

But, as the DMA spokeswoman says, such steps do not work with spam e-mail.

"That's completely random, normally generated overseas and there's little you can do to stop it," she says.

While it may be impossible to block all spam e-mail, net users can avoid much of it by being careful.

Junking junk

Firstly, guard personal information carefully - it is very valuable and should be treated as such.

E-mail graphic, Eyewire
E-mail can be a source of a lot of spam
Many websites ask you to register and give them all kinds of information before giving access to their content.

Most do not need it and get nothing from it that they cannot gather through the cookies they put on your machine. Cookies are little files websites use to identify users.

Avoid sites that demand too much information. Many people who object to giving away their details complain to sites which ask for them, or even give false information.

It is worth having a few e-mail addresses for different purposes. One should be very personal for close friends, relations and trusted companies such as your bank.

The others can be used to represent you in online discussions or when asking for details from a website.

Ditch overloaded e-mails

Net service providers usually let you maintain a series of aliases, and free e-mail services abound on the web. If you have several e-mail addresses, abandon those that become spam magnets.

Spam is completely random and there's little you can do to stop it

And those who own a web domain should not put their personal e-mail address on it. It will be harvested by robots that trawl the web.

Check that you are not inadvertently leaking information by visiting the browser analysers run by privacy organisations.

And use a web browser that lets you manage the cookies placed on your machine by online advertisers.

The Opera browser and Internet Explorer 6 have good tools that enable users to keep an eye on these little text files.

But the golden rule is to guard your information and give nothing away if you can possibly help it.

Do you have any tips on how to beat junk mail? Or are you buried in spam? Let us know using the form below.

I work for an e-mail marketing company (hate me, hate me now!) and I can tell you there is nothing you can do once a company like mine has your details, you can ask to be unsubscribed, you can click the unsubscribe link you can even phone us up and threaten to kill our families, but your info is extremely valuable to us and nothing will make us delete it. Once one e-mail campaign is over, you'll get added to another, and you won't even know it came from the same company. It's not something I enjoy doing, but it pays the bills.
Jimothy, Scotand

Most of the 450 junk e-mails I receive monthly originate in the US, Russia and China. EU rules will unfortunately have little influence on that. Respectable companies will abide by the new rules but most respectable companies had opt-in policies already anyway.
Jan Weijers, Netherlands

If you need to put your e-mail address on your own website, try putting the ascii codes for the characters instead. This shows up perfectly well in the web browser and works fine in any hyperlink, but the robots that trawl sites won't be able to pick it up.
Matt, UK

If you want a free, spam-free online e-mail, use a small domain - the best is, which gives you a personalised domain name. Never reply to spam; and never "opt-out" as you'll be put on a new list of "confirmed active" addresses and will receive more spam, not less.
Joe, Belgium

Use to report spam and help get it stopped at source
Hil, UK

When I get junk mail through the post, I look for any pre-paid envelope that may be included. If there is one, I put all the junk mail that will fit in it and send it back.
Pete, UK

If you get junk mail through the post that you can tell is junk mail from the envelope, don't even open it: write on the front "Junk mail, not wanted: return to sender" and stick it in a post box. Most companies will take the hint and stop sending it.
Chris, UK

Unsolicited sales calls during my precious evenings irritate me the most. A satisfying way to deal with them is to put them on hold. Answer just like an automated service, tell them you appreciate their call, and that you will go and get the person they want, then leave the phone off the hook til you hear the disconnection tone. Doesn't stop them but it does raise a smile.
Matt, UK

Most distrubing spam aspect to me is the increasing frequency of forged e-mails which others send out using our company site as the source and/or return address. We learn about this only from the portion of messages returned (to us) as undeliverable and a small number of hated replies from SPAM recipients who believe we are the source.
Sawyer, US

I've managed to remain nearly free of telemarketers for years now (knock on wood) by refusing to ever give out my home phone number companies can't require that you own a phone, so claiming not to have one will always do the trick.
Seamus, US

If I constantly get junk e-mail from the same address, I send 50 replies with a large attachment (normally a couple of snapshots of the BBC web pages). This fills their mail box and stops them recieving any responses to the spam message. In at least 10 cases I know I have been removed from their email list.
Carol, England

Some spam mails invite you to click on a hyperlink to be removed from their list. Don't do it ! This helps them trawl for actively read email addresses and you will get even more spam. Just delete the mail and ignore it. Also, don't click on links to website from the spam mail as they will use that information as well.
Peter Walkley, UK

You can always stop telemarketeers in their tracks by simply lying! E.g. A well known company selling kitchens can be stopped in their tracks by simply saying,"OH! What a pity and we have just had our kitchen done!" They can hardly call you a liar so will have no choice other than to hang up!!
Bob Faint, UK

Most e-mail programs such as Outlook and Eudora have easy to use "rules" that you can set up. So for example I have rules which automatically delete any email with "gamble" or "casino" in the subject. Other rules delete messages with "porn " or "sex".
Vim Mahadevan, US

Keep free of spam - be like me, move house every six months, change e-mail address weekly, buy a new prepay mobile every month, wear dark clothes and a wide brimmed hat so the spam satellites can't see you. OK, so I don't keep friends very long, but hey I haven't had an unwanted catalogue on my doorstep for days now. Did you know they can tell your blood type from your IP address?
Jonny 6 (not real name)

I went through a phase of constantly being sent application forms for a credit card. I returned the mail and asked to be removed, but it continued to come. So I played them at their own game and filled it in and returned it. My name is Mickey Mouse, I'm unemployed, I have no income, I don't own any property and I want 250,000.00 credit. I also want additional cards for Donald Duck, Huey, Duey & Looy and Pluto. I never hear from them again.
James, UK

My home phone is ex-directory and so only those whom I wish to have the number have it. I also only give my e-mail address to family and close friends. If I don't recognise the sender's address on an e-mail, it's deleted without being opened. Junk mail goes straight in the bin without being opened. Following these simple rules has meant that I live a life pretty much unaffected by unwanted advertising.
Peter, Ireland

After nearly four years of trying to get rid of double glazing phone calls from the same company, almost a call every two-three months. I finally invited them to call on me to give a quote, they phoned to arranged a second visit the following week when they got no reply at the door. They got no reply the second time as I went shopping again, and have not had a call since, almost two years now. Waste their time, and money. It wins every time.
Colin McElduff, England

Write to: Mailing Preference Sevice, Freepost 22, London W1E 7EZ. Request to stop junk mail. It worked for me and lasts for five years.
Kevin Smith, UK

If you get you email by pop3, then there is a free wonderful program spampal that filters your mail ( If you use Unix, then use another free program spamassasin. Spampal has been 99% sucessful for me, and you can cut countries off, e.g. Korea, China where most spam comes from...
Dino Carboni, UK

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Weely guide to getting buttoned up

See also:

15 Aug 00 | Science/Nature
08 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
28 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
11 May 02 | Science/Nature
15 Jun 01 | UK
13 Nov 01 | Science/Nature
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