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. Or you could sign up for abuse.net’s free ser­vice, so you can sim­ply send email to the originatingdomain@abuse.net, and they’ll take care of fig­ur­ing which address to send the com­plaint to at the orig­i­nat­ing domain. 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 that lit­tle bit hard­er for them to do busi­ness.

    I com­plain to the sys­tem through which the email was sent, but also to any oth­er sys­tems 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 can­celled soon. Some­times they give the URL of their web sites. I com­plain to the sys­tem for the reply email address and who­ev­er is host­ing their web site 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 the cou­ple of sec­onds to try.

  • Report pyra­mid schemes to the FTC
    For­ward any emails you receive pro­mot­ing pyra­mid schemes to pyramid@ftc.gov 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-dis­cus­sion) news­groups, as well. They may not mat­ter as much to you per­son­al­ly, but the same com­pa­nies usu­al­ly spam news­groups and email–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 non­com­mer­cial news­groups. 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.

Last updat­ed Octo­ber 25, 2001