Just about everyone has opened up their email to find correspondence from people and websites that we have never heard of selling all manner of commercial products. This sort of mail often concerns gambling, pharmaceutical products, diet methods, and sexual enhancement aids, and get rich quick schemes. It is also not unusual to find bogus sales pitches, sales opportunities, and scams such as the famous Nigerian fraud in which the email recipient is tempted to share in an an expatriate fortune. One of the newer spam-scam gambits is phishing, the most obvious examples of which are phony PayPal and Ebay emails asking you to verify your account. Does this sound familiar? Well, this is spam, and it is billion dollar bulk email industry funded by naivete of the population at large.

How do you distinguish spam from legitimate email? You can often tell simply by the fact that you may not recognize the name of the sender, or the sender has name that is gibberish or composed of numbers. Often the subject line concerns gambling, pornography, or an offer to make thousands of dollars in 24 hours. In many cases, spammers are able to create email that is almost identical to a respected source, such as your bank, or PayPal, or Ebay. In other cases, the subject lines may indicate that the message is responding to your email. Other spammers are able to create phony returned mail. That is, they want you to think that you have sent an email that has bounced back.

A general rule of thumb is to always read the to and from address fields in all email that you receive. If you find strange addresses or anonymous addresses, or scrambled alpha-numeric addresses (for example, x78sf2z@scammail.com) then you have spam. And if you have spam, you’ve got scam. And the point of scam is to part you from your money.

How to stop spam? Identifying it as quickly as possible is the first step to ridding this invasive email from your in-box. However, should you click on spam, or worse yet, divulge your email address, you are on the way to having a serious problem. Once your email address is in circulation among the spammer population, you have virtually opened your email “door” and invited an unwelcome and unending hoard of junk mail in. Spammers use your natural curiosity–indeed they count on it–against you to tempt you into opening their mail.

Remember, the point of spam is to get you open the email. Once opened you have, at the very least, verified that your email address is active. To a spammer, an active email address means money either because you will divulge additional information–such as a credit card number–at a later date, or because you email address can be sold to someone else. Also, keep in mind that spammers only need a very tiny response rate to be successful because they are sending out millions upon millions of emails a day. With that kind of volume going out, even a return rate of .0001% can be very profitable.

If you are truly swamped by spam, you may need to get a new email address. However, you can begin to clean up your email by not opening spam and using anti-spam software to weed out junk mail. Such software is now very sophisticated, not all that expensive and although not perfect, very effective at cutting out most of spam. Most of the big, free email services such as Yahoo!, Google, MSN, and Hotmail now also provide effective spam filtering. However, keep in mind that spam reduction–like good housekeeping–begins with you.

Find out more about spam control and elimination and how to stop email spam in our posts in anti-spam category or discuss it with others in PC Security Forum.