Well, that takes care of trying to avoid the spam in the first place–but what to do when you do get it?
- Complain to the systems the spammers are using
First, if you really care, complain. Every time. Every email. Either learn to read the headers to see where the mail truly originated or use the free web-based utility at SpamCop, which will even tell you where to send the complaints. If you don’t complain, the ISPs being used to send the email care far less about the fact that their servers are being used in this way. It may seem like a minor inconvenience, but every time a particular server or ISP is closed to spammers, it makes it a little bit harder for them to do business.
I complain to the system through which the email was sent, but also to any other system the spammer is using. For instance, spammers often give a reply email address on a different system in the body of their email, knowing that the account through which they sent the email will probably be canceled soon. Sometimes they give the address for a website. I complain to the system for the reply email address and whoever is hosting their website or is upstream from it, noting in those complaints that while I know their systems weren’t used to send the spam, they are doing business with unscrupulous businesses and their reputations are therefore being tarnished by association. Most of the email systems do go ahead and cancel the accounts. Some of the web hosting providers do, some don’t–but it’s always worth a couple of seconds to try.
- Report pyramid schemes to the FTC
Forward any emails you receive promoting pyramid schemes to email@example.com as well as the other addresses. These scams are illegal.
- Do not ever use the “remove” instructions provided in the UCE or communicate directly with the spammer in any way.
In most cases, that just verifies that yours is a valid email address, which lets them sell it to other spammers for more money than addresses that may or may not be valid. Using it will not reduce the amount of UCE you receive. I believe that the same goes for the Internet Email Marketing Council, which claims you can sign up with them to be removed from all their members’ lists. There are other similar services, and I honestly have no reason to trust any of them.
- Complain about inappropriate commercial Usenet posts
Complain about any commercial posts in discussion (non-commercial) newsgroups, mailing lists, web forums, and the like. They may not matter as much to you personally, but the same companies usually spam email and other venues–and they can ruin a newsgroup, making it unreadable. Again, you’ll need to read the headers to find out where the post actually originated in order to send your complaint to the proper people.
In the same vein, I find it useless–and sometimes even foolish–to address a complaint, or even a polite request, to anyone who sends UCEs or posts advertisements in non-commercial venues. At best, you’ve just verified your email address for their lists. At worst, you’ll receive nastygrams, email bombs, or other harassment from them. The only way anyone using the net today can avoid knowing that such advertising is unwanted is through willful ignorance. It isn’t your job to educate him.
- Be polite
No matter who you’re complaining to, be polite. It isn’t the postmaster’s fault that one of his users is sending out spam (well, not usually, anyway).
- Vote with your wallet
Refuse to do business with anyone who uses spam for advertising. Contact the business that is being advertised rather than the spammer to let them know that you’re boycotting them because of their advertising methods.