Latest reports indicate that over 50% of the mail sent over the Internet is spam or unsolicited mail. Who can forget those mails you get from Korea and other East Asian countries. You can bet your life on the fact that you never visited these sites or submitted your email address to them. How did they get your email ID and who sold it to them?
Well, spamming and selling of email address databases is a multimillion dollar business and spammers use special email sniffer programs or bots to go crawling through the Internet and extract email addresses from web pages. So in case you have put up your email address on your home page or have been actively taking part in various discussion groups, then you are at a very high risk of your email address getting picked up by a bot and thereafter getting spammed.
The problem arises when your email id is picked up by even one of those numerous bots that are crawling the web. Then your email will be sold and resold to hundreds of spammers who will simply add you to their automated spam lists and their mailing software will do the job of mailing you junk on a daily or even hourly basis.
Even when you hit the unsubscribe link in those emails, you would be taken out of that mailing list but added to another one. So even if you keep unsubscribing to all those junk mails over a period of time, you don't really see the quantum of spam reducing, on the contrary, there is a possibility that it has increased further.
Another risk of getting spammed is when you have to register at a site to use their features. While many sites keep your email and other details confidential, a few of them would sell your email ID or would have had their database hacked and the details stolen out.
What can we do to minimize spam? Be careful while you submit your email address while registering with numerous sites. Make sure you read their privacy statements. Many sites will boldly mention on the front - "We don't sell your contact information to others", but in their privacy statement, in fine print, they would mention that your email address may be shared with partner sites.
Make sure that the site you are registering with is trustworthy, what I mean is, in case you are registering at a site which offers you free illegal music downloads or free videos, be sure that your email address will be sold.
Think logically. If a site is doing something which is unethical, why do you think they would be honest and ethical about not selling your email. Moreover, everybody needs to generate revenue to sustain themselves on the net. So if someone is offering you free music, then he/she is regenerating revenues by selling your email.
To think of it practically, it's not really possible to keep reading through each site's privacy statement before registering, nor do you know which site is honest and which will sell your email ID, so the best thing is to use your unofficial or unimportant ID to register at these sites. In this way, even if your mail does get sold, it won't jam up your prime inbox.
Secondly, while participating in news/discussion groups, make sure that the site doesn't disclose your email address, along with your posting. Nowadays, all major discussion forums and e-groups hide the participant's email ID.
In case you do have to mention your email address in your posting, then make sure you obscure it. For example, instead of writing it as firstname.lastname@example.org, try writing it as myname_At_mydomain_com. This will confuse the email sniffer programs, because many of these programs, while sniffing through the pages, actually search for the "@" and the ".com" or ".net", to identify email addresses. So in case it doesn't find the @ sign, it will consider it as normal text and move on.
Another common way of obscuring your email is making it something like myDELETEname@mydomain.com or myname@mydomainNOSPAM.com. Regular visitors, while reading your post, will understand that they need to remove the words DELETE and NOSPAM to obtain your correct email ID, the sniffers will record the email as it is and they will start spamming an invalid ID.
Never ever give out your email ID in public chat rooms, while you might be giving it to your friend, there is always a possibility that someone else in the chat room either wants to make some money or just play a practical joke on you.
There is no foolproof method to avoid spam. Hence, it is always better to use an anti-spam software. There are many anti-spam software programs available on the Internet and making the right choice would be a very difficult task. So, do some research on the Internet to see which of them are good, talk to people who are already using it, and make a sound decision.
At the end of it, there is still hope. Microsoft, including other major service providers are taking spam very seriously and are putting plans in place, to banish spam from the face of the Internet. So, until that happens, being careful and taking a little precaution will go a long way in keeping spam away or at least to the minimum.