Cutting The Spam Out of Your Digital Diet
It seems like every day, I spend at least the first 5–10 minutes of my day going through spam and unwarranted marketing e-mail. Some of it is insulting, some of it is simply annoying, and some of it is downright dangerous. Some days, I feel my blood pressure rise because of it . Spam and cold-call marketing are probably among my biggest pet peeves.
In midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increased amount of desperation from small enterprises. With limited social contact, businesses feel the need to reach out more than ever.
But where does the line get crossed between nuisance and harassment?
To be honest, that line exists in some murky gray area. I’m not only a business owner myself, but I’m also in charge of handling the e-mails that come through for my family’s business. Which means that every single day, no matter how many spam blockers I have installed across our systems, I am hit with a barrage of bullsh*t as I sip my morning coffee.
A few months ago, I started to fight back. I was getting spammed constantly by an “Eric Jones,” of the “Talk With Web Visitor” fame. I say “fame” rather ironically, because anyone with a contact form on their website, has been spammed endlessly by this mythical creature and there are plenty of forum threads devoted to the ever-persistent “Mr. Jones.” I tried sourcing out where this Talk With Web Visitor/Talk With Leads (there’s a few names with it) business was located — from what I could gather from its IP information, it was somewhere in Canada. I reported it to a Canadian government organisation devoted to reporting spammers. I reported it to the hosting company of their website, who also appeared to be in Canada. But as of this post’s publishing, nothing has been done to stop the Eric Jones spam.
The thing is, sad as it is, there isn’t much the governments of any countries will do to stop spammers. But if they happen to be small businesses that are fronting, you can certainly try and scare them a bit.
Fighting Repeat Spammers
I had one persistent spammer, who despite saying I was not interested in his services (I feel I can at least reply and be nice the first time around), kept spamming me with generic emails. I noticed the phone number and address were pretty close to the town I grew up in back in the United States, but likewise also noticed the emails came at what I would consider to be unsociable hours on the east coast of the US.
I finally reported him to the Federal Trade Commission, with the address and phone number listed on his website. I then forwarded the confirmation of the report with the report number to him — and he promptly freaked out. Really lost it. He finally wrote me back a personal email saying this was the first time he had contacted me — I forwarded him the previous emails, cc’ing the FTC in on them to catch him in a lie, ya know, with Big Brother watching. He then said his business was located in “New York and India.” Ah. So here we go again… another business that’s playing this game of where they’re located — in our industry this has almost become the norm. He was probably using an address of a friend or relative who lives in the US. How many times do we have to see this happen before we do something about it?
But, despite how annoying the situation is, the important thing to note — he at least stopped spamming me. And because he was clearly not based in the US, he probably didn’t know that the FTC wouldn’t be putting his spam e-mailing behaviour at the top of their priority pile, but might have been scared enough to stop spamming random people like myself. So, did it help? Who knows. It was still worth doing and I truly believe there’s enough of us ordinary citizens out there willing to take a few minutes out of our day to take a stand.
What can you do to stop spam?
There is no foolproof way to stop spam, but depending on how motivated you are — and also if you’re willing to spend a few bucks on it — there are things you can do to calm your sanity when it seems like your inbox is overflowing with e-mail you didn’t ask for.
- Add Google Invisible ReCaptcha to your website’s contact form. We now do this as standard on the websites we build at Star Mountain, but if you don’t have it on there, it’s worth adding. Google provides instructions on how to do this. I won’t tell you it’s 100%. Even that m********** Eric Jones managed to sneak past it once since I put the controls on. But it helps — A LOT.
- Learn how to block email senders on whatever platform you use for email. In all cases, it will just put the e-mail into your spam folder. And you should always check that, no matter what, because sometimes legit stuff gets in there.
- Block Sender. It’s a freemium programme (free for the most basic, and paid for more features) you can attach to your e-mail addresses on Gmail and Google-powered e-mail accounts. What you can do is not only block senders, but also the domains they’re coming from (but you have to be careful on domain blocks if the spam is coming from Gmail, Hotmail, and other popular e-mail companies — because you will inevitably end up blocking people you know if you block those domains). You can also block a term or subject line. Now we’ll come to my favourite part — you can send back a canned response — either a fake bounce e-mail or a “Blocked by Block Sender” e-mail. I love this, because if these jerks are spamming me, I want to be able to send them some spammy love back.
- Block certain countries from viewing your website. Look, if your business is located in the United States, Canada, UK etc and a majority of your spam is coming from Southeast Asia or China (as is often the case for us) but you don’t actually do any business with clients from these countries — you can block them from viewing your website entirely. Installing plugins and programmess that block IP addresses from various countries can really make a difference. We don’t have a “use this plugin” recommendation for this, because the best one for your site will probably depend on the kind of website you have and you’re best to do your own research on that. Note on this: Virtual Private Networks exist. If the spammer is using a VPN to locate themselves elsewhere, blocking a geographic region won’t work.
- Report spammers! It takes time to do this — I get it. But it’s absolutely worth doing, and more so if you let them know you’re doing it. My rule of thumb is that if they spam me once and they don’t stop after I ask them to take me off their list or whatever, I report them to the appropriate agency (note, I do not do this if my Google-powered emails flag the e-mail as dangerous — I simply block them).
These are the ways to report spam in a few English-speaking countries:
- United States of America: https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/
- United Kingdom: https://ico.org.uk/make-a-complaint/nuisance-calls-and-messages/spam-emails/
- Canada: https://www.fightspam.gc.ca/eic/site/030.nsf/frm-eng/MMCN-9EZV6S
- Australia: https://www.acma.gov.au/spam-and-telemarketing
- New Zealand:https://www.reportspam.co.nz/
- South Africa: https://ispa.org.za/spam/This is not as straightforward, but the page will explain what you should do depending on the kind of spam you are receiving.
I will say, I did seek out information, perhaps ironically, on how to report e-mail spam in India. At the time of publishing, there doesn’t seem to be one — which should, maybe, surprise no one. India has the rather unfortunate title of leading the world in e-mail spam production.
Last couple of points here:
- Do not display your e-mail address in full on your website if you can help it. It makes it easier for web crawlers to find. Instead, simply use a link that says “e-mail” that links to your email address.
- Set controls on LinkedIn and make your e-mail accessible only to your network. I hated doing this — while I am not job hunting, nor looking for anyone to hire, I was getting 4–5 contact requests per day from randoms on LinkedIn who wanted to find our “synergies” or some buzzword BS like that. Despite writing in my profile that I would not be accepting any of these requests, they kept coming — just goes to show you how many so-called “professional” people bother to read your profile before writing, right? With every single one, I wrote back and said I would never work with someone who couldn’t be bothered to read my profile before contacting me to “do business.” Despite doing that, it wasn’t enough and I was tired of giving time to people like that. Because let’s face it, dealing with unwanted e-mail and contact requests eats into your precious time; something a lot of us don’t have much of. I finally changed my LinkedIn settings so that now you can only contact me if you know some crucial information about me. It was unfortunate that I had to go that route, especially because a friend of a friend told me he wanted to connect to me on the site last week, but didn’t know my e-mail address to complete the invite. Sadly, the big cheeses at LinkedIn don’t do anything to discourage the spamming activity that forces someone like me to lock down their profile either — so, their loss — and a little bit, mine.
- Also make sure your e-mail address is not publicly visible on social media. It’s annoying if you have a business, but sometimes we have to make hard judgement calls. If you’re not in business, then changing your privacy setting for your e-mail eliminates one more way for you to be found by those unsavory characters.
- Look carefully when giving your e-mail address to a mailing list, contest, subscription, and the like. With GDPR laws in place for the UK and European Union, sharing your data has become a lot more difficult; and so has automatically adding someone to a mailing list when they utilise your site’s contact and purchasing forms. Outside of this area, it’s a crapshoot. Make sure you’re not giving permission for your information to be shared with third parties.
Hopefully, this is helpful for people who, like me, feel like the amount of spam they’re wading through everyday is neverending. Take control of your spam and try to stop the people behind it.
I know for me, every time I add a “block rule” to someone on Block Sender, I feel a sense of relief. I know I’ll get spammed again, but I know it won’t be by that person and if they try, they’ll get spam back.
Hey, it’s only fair, right?
Have other suggestions and ideas for handling spam? Please send us a note and let us know what has worked for you — we can add it to this post!