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How do I Report Spam?

There are a few ways to handle spam—all that unwanted, unrequested email you always seem to have in your inbox:

  • You can click on it to see what it's about, but that's a bad idea.
  • It's an even a worse idea to click on any links in the spam message.
  • You can report it on the spot to your Internet Service Provider. (There is usually a button somewhere that lets you click on the message and then identify it as spam.)
  • You can report it to a spam reporting service and let them take it to the next level.

Don't talk back to spam.

The "From" header in a spam email is almost always forged, meaning it's not a genuine person or organization with good will in mind, so replying with a "Leave me alone!" message is not the best thing to do. In most cases, in fact, that will actually increase the amount of spam you receive because you've confirmed that there is a live person (you!) reading email at that email address. Sometimes that's the kind of information a spammer or hacker wants, because then they know whom to go after.

However, the right solution isn't simply telling your Internet Service Provider that you received spam—it's also a good idea (and more effective) to report it to the experts who are in charge of the network from which the email originated.

Even though the Internet is "wide open" and fairly unregulated, there are still some policies that individuals and businesses are supposed to adhere to. Some of it is related to business practices, but a lot is related to spamming and hacking. As computer users, we play a role in helping minimize bad online behavior by reporting it when we come across it. And that's the right thing to do, if you think about it.

We need to do more than just get around spam and not get tricked or sucked in by it—we need to fight against it. And there are ways to do that.

Putting a dent in spam.

We need to look at online activity as a reflection of what goes on in the real world and decide what's right, what's not, what's good for the online community and what is not good for the majority of people. If we care about what happens in our daily lives, we should care about what happens online as well.

For example, if you were to see someone suspicious-looking in your neighborhood, you'd likely call the police and hope they follow up on it. And in the workplace, many companies these days have anonymous tip lines employees can call when they see something that violates company policies. It's a way for everyone to get involved and do the right thing.

Wouldn't it be great if there were something more you could do to deal with spam? Well, now there is.

The spam police.

Set up a free account with a service called SpamCop. You can use their robust spam-fighting system to report spam directly to the specific networks that are unknowingly hosting the worst spammers.

Internet Service Providers want that information! They want to keep spammers and other problem accounts off their networks. (Otherwise, a regulation agency might think the ISP itself is promoting spam.) If an ISP knows that one of their account holders is causing problems, they can cut off that person's online account.

SpamCop lets you use their online system to report spam. They can determine the origin of unwanted email (which might be hard for you to do) and report it to the relevant Internet Service Providers.

So now when you notice spam in your inbox, you have a clear choice—you can simply ignore it and move on (which is what most people do), or you can take steps to push back against the spammers and use other resources to help shut them down.

Maybe if we all did that, we'd find fewer spam messages in our inboxes one day.

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