There is an epidemic that occurs daily to most computer users every minute of every day. Thousands of spam emails fill the inboxes of unsuspecting computer users worldwide. Have you ever noticed that a lot of spam seems to come from your own email address? You may be wondering exactly how these spammers get your email address. While there are many ways that spammers collect email addresses, some of them are perfectly legal, and some of them are not. Either way, their methods are certainly not ethical.
Spammers use email harvesting software to collect email addresses from popular websites. Some of the most targeted websites are social networking sites, profile pages, forums, chat rooms, and blogs. Basically, any interactive web site on the internet are targets for spammers to collect email addresses. Other sites include those you may do business with, or websites that ask you to sign up to receive more information about their products or services.
Email harvesters are also called spam bots, and are automated software programs that “steal” other users’ email addresses from a targeted website. Every page of a website is scanned by the harvester, and the collect all text that is surrounded by a “@” symbol. These email addresses are then downloaded into a bulk email program, which then sends out these spam emails. Many times, these harvested lists are resold or traded among other spammers. If your email address ever ends up on a spammer’s list, chances are it will be on many in no time.
While there are many websites that require you to sign up before you do business with them or access more information, many of them do not hold your email information as securely as they should. Google groups and Yahoo groups tend to poorly safeguard their users’ email addresses and leave them exceptionally vulnerable. Sometimes, even the companies you do business with or register with may also sell your information to a third-party company.
Spammers often target potential email addresses by domain, or the part of your email address that follows the “@” symbol. Randomly generated characters are placed in front of the “@” symbol until they find a hit. Email addresses for companies are extremely sensitive to this type of spamming because their emails tend to be in the form of “firstname.lastname@example.org.” When email addresses are harvested in this manner, it is called a “brute force” attack.
Generally, most spam emails are returned to the sender because the email addresses are invalid. However, spammers will send out millions of emails at a time. If only 1% of the millions of email go through successfully, this is success to a spammer.
One of the more effective ways for you to fight back is to fool the search engine spiders and the spam bots. You can do this by replacing “@” with “at” in any email address. This makes it less recognizable as an email address to the majority of the bots out there. You could always take a screenshot of your email address and upload it as well to defend against this.