• Take your email address out of your web browser
    Keep your valid email address out of the settings in your web browser. I don’t even configure the mail server settings there, as there are no circumstances under which I send email from my web browser—that’s why I have an email program that’s much better than the ones I’ve seen in any browser. No, cookies don’t grab your email address, but there are malicious JavaScripts and other methods that can get it. This one is less likely to expose you to problems than the others, but if you’re really serious . . .

  • Be aware of what information you’re providing to whom
    Don’t provide personal information—including your email address—to any web site unless you would want to receive email from them. The same goes for any information requested in the meat world—I see more and more response forms requesting an email address if you have one. Some of the sites that do require that you enter an address have a selection box where you can note that you don’t want to receive email from them. You can make sure you tell them you don’t want the email—or you can just enter a bogus address in the first place (again, make sure that it couldn’t be anyone else’s valid email address). I will warn you that I worked briefly for a company that provided information services to a large retailer with an excellent reputation, and was surprised to find that they included every customer whose information they had in mailings, without regard to the “I don’t want to get mail from you” requests. After that, I decided that no company needs my email address unless I do business with them online.

  • Use different email addresses for specific purposes
    Some people, especially those who own their own domains, use different email addresses every time they provide an address to anyone. If they register to use Microsoft’s tech support site, they’ll use one address for that. They’ll use another address as a contact point for an account with Amazon, and a third to register a Salon, and so on. They keep track of which addresses they used where, and if they start receiving spam at those addresses, they know who is selling the address to spammers. They can then chose to delete that particular email address and not do business with the offending organization again.

  • Don’t trust a web-based postcard site that isn’t an established, respectable company—and ask your correspondents to do the same
    I recently learned that some greeting-card sites are selling the addresses of people who send cards using their sites as well as the email addresses of the recipients. In addition, some legitimate sites are leaving themselves open to abuse. Check the privacy policy of any site you consider using.