5 Tools to Keep Your Email Safe from Spam

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If you’re a blogger, you probably want people to be able to contact you.

However, despite the rise in Twitter and other social networks, good old-fashioned email is still the most universal means of contact on the Web. The problem is that posting your email address online can result in spammers getting adding you to their databases and turning your inbox into a junk-filled cesspool.

So how do you share your email address on the Web without opening the door to every robot and Nigerian prince that wants to email you? Here are five very simple ways to help keep your inbox clear of spam while ensuring that your readers can still get in touch with you.

Scr.im

Scr.im is new service that works a bit like TinyURL or other URL shortening services, but for email addresses.

Simply type in your email address, create a custom link and then give that link on your site, Twitter account or anywhere else that you want people to have your email.

Scr.im works by creating a special CAPTCHA page that a user must click through in order to gain access to your email link. However, rather than having to type the CAPTCHA by hand, which can be tedious and difficult, Scri.im requires users to just click the letter combination from a list of selections, greatly speeding up the process.

Though it is likely spam bots could break Scr.im’s CAPTCHA system, the motivation to do so for just one email address is fairly low. If you want to view a sample of one of Scr.im’s pages, you can get my email address.

It is unclear if visually impaired users will be able to access email addresses hidden by Scr.im.

Contact Forms

Rather than having your email address on your site directly, it may be wise to encourage readers to fill out a contact form to send you a message. This hides your email address from the public and still makes it very easy for readers to get in touch with you.

If you run a self-hosted WordPress blog, there are several plugins that you can install to do this. They range from the robust and complex, such as CFORMS II, to the basic and elegant, such as the SimpleModal Contact Form.

Though Spam bots are capable of filling out email forms, and many do, if you set up your form so that you use nonstandard variables or use some other spam protection, a junk mailer isn’t likely to be motivated to reverse engineer your form just to reach one more email address out of millions.

Image Obfuscation

Since spam bots can only read clear text, you can easily hide your email address into an image to make it harder for the spammers to get to. The caveat is that you can not use a regular mailto link in order to make the image clickable as that defeats the purpose.

There are also email obfuscators that can counteract that mailto problem by converting your email address into garbled text that a simple spam bot can not understand.

Please note that the visually impaired will not be able to access an email address hidden inside an image.

10 Minute Mail

Though spam bots that crawl the Web are a huge problem, another common source of spam is all of the services and sites we register for every, punching in our email address every time. Even if we’re careful to not give our email to anyone unscrupulous, accidents happen and privacy policies do change. Emails, once given out, have a way of leaking.

A service called 10 Minute Mail fixes that by giving you an email address that lasts only 10 minutes. That gives you enough time to get the address, register for the service, receive the confirmation email and click the link/reply before the email address disappears for good.

Should your email address leak, there is no danger as the account doesn’t exist anymore. The problem is that, if you need a password reminder or to receive updates from a service, you have to either change your email address, if you can, or register for a new account.

10 Minute Mail is great for sites you plan on only visiting once or twice but are scared that your address might be in shaky hands.

Use Gmail

Sometimes the best solution to dealing with spam is to let it come and then filter it out. The problem is that it can be very tricky to do, especially if you’re using your own email server or your ISPs account.

To take the burden off, using a third-party service is often a good idea. Though there is a lot of debate about which service does the best filtering, Gmail works best for most as users can use their existing email addresses (even have Google host them with Google Apps) and there is even a hack to turn Gmail into a remote backup/spam filter for an existing email account.

Personally, I receive hundreds of spam messages per day but only have one or two get into my inbox using Google Apps, overall a pretty good record.

Bottom Line

Though a lot of the conversation on the Web has shifted to comment and blog spam, this is largely due to advances in email spam filtering. The truth is that email spam is more prevalent than ever and 2008 was, as predicted, the largest spam year on record.

The fact that we see so little spam in our inboxes is a true marvel of technology to say the least and shows the hard work of those that toil behind the scenes to battle spam, either by developing applications to block spam or working for companies like Google to keep their users relative junk-free.

But even with this technology, spam can be a tremendous headache and it is worth taking a few moments to protect your email address and ensure that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Failure to do so could mean that you spend more time filtering spam than answering email or, worse yet, that your email could become almost worthless.

Your email is part of your identity, it is worthwhile to keep it safe.

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Disclosure: In full disclosure, it is safe to assume that the site owner is benefiting financially or otherwise from everything you click on, read, or look at while on my website. This is not to say that is the case with all content, as all publications on the site are original and written to provide value and references to our audience.

3 Comments

  1. Patti Stafford April 1, 2009
  2. Jonathan Bailey April 1, 2009
  3. Flickr Alternative April 25, 2009