How can I prevent spammers from getting my email address?


Q & A by C.J. HaydenOne of the drawbacks of becoming more visible on the web is that you may start to receive much more unwanted email. Most of us use mail filters provided by our ISP or installed as an add-on service, but we still get far too many bulk emails. We want our customers to be able to reach us, but not the spammers. What can we do?

While it’s impossible to completely protect an email address from the spammers and still use it yourself, there are a few simple changes you can make to reduce the number of places your address is available.

First, use a different email address than your usual one whenever you subscribe to an ezine, fill out an online form, or place an order online. For example, I use lists at getclientsnow.com as my address for these activities. That way your regular address won’t be cluttered up with any unwanted mail that results from sharing your address. I have a filter set up in Outlook that diverts all incoming mail sent to my “lists” address to a special folder instead of my inbox. Then I can review (and delete) it at my leisure.

Next, never post your private email address on any website or forum where it will be displayed without encryption or obfuscation. When you submit an article for publication or make a post to a public message board, give your website URL as the best way for people to reach you instead of your email address. If an email address is absolutely required to publish or post, use an alternate address, as suggested above.

On your own website(s), don’t publish your address in any visible form. The spambots can find it whether you display it as text or have it only available in a hyperlink or embedded in an input form. (If the email address is visible in your page’s HTML source code, they can find it.) The way I make it possible for people to email me without giving out my address is that I obfuscate my address by putting it in hex code. You don’t need to know what that is in order to use it.

To obfuscate your address, visit this site created by Tim Williams at the University of Arizona. Type your email address in the box shown, and you’ll get back a string of HTML code that you can use in your web pages instead of displaying your address.

For an example of how you can use this, go to this site’s contact page. The email address isn’t visible on the page (nor is it in the HTML source code), but if you hover your cursor over the “email us” link or click on it, you’ll see the address appear. Using this method, humans can get your address and send you mail, but most spambots will not recognize this as an address and will jump right over it.

This doesn’t keep overzealous marketers from adding you to their mailing list without your permission — nothing can prevent that once a human learns your address. But the worst source of unwanted mail is from the spambots, and I’ve found that using this method cuts that mail down to a trickle.

If you don’t even want humans to get your address unless you send email to them, you can instead add a contact form to your website. You can see a sample contact form on this site’s Submit Questions page. Be sure that the form you use doesn’t have the email address visible in the HTML. The form used on that page is Chip Cuccio’s Contact Form ][, designed specifically for WordPress sites. You can get a similar form from your webmaster, web host, or from a shareware site.

A solution I don’t recommend is using a challenge-response system like SpamArrest or Mailblocks. These systems require anyone who emails you to respond to an auto-reply in order for their email to go through. While it may make sense to protect your personal email address in this way so that no one but friends and family can send you email, using a challenge-response system at your business email address can prevent potential customers from reaching you.

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