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Of the 30 billion email messages that are sent worldwide each day, at least one-third are unsolicited commercial email, in other words-spam. Of that 10 billion, porn spam email accounts for at least 25%. With numbers that striking, it's likely that your inbox has already been hit with objectionable content more than once. The question is, what can you do to protect yourself?

In this feature article, we will address our readers' most-asked questions about porn spam email.

How did they get my name and email address?

There are many ways that porn spammers can get your name and address, including:

  • Collecting your information when you visit a website (these lists can then be used or sold).
  • Purchasing a list from someone else.
  • Writing software programs that harvest email addresses from public forums such as newsgroups, chatrooms, websites, ISP directories, etc.
  • Using the phone book method (or dictionary approach) to create every possible name and address combination: JohnA@hotmail.com, JohnB@hotmail.com, etc.
  • There is also some evidence that many of those innocent-looking chain letters you may be receiving are actually just another way of collecting addresses. When your friend forwards them along to you, she may be inadvertently giving your email address to a reseller or even a pornographer.

The Federal Trade Commission, in conjunction with ten other federal, state, and local law enforcement and consumer protection agencies, recently conducted an initiative (dubbed spam Harvest) designed to determine what online activities put consumers most at risk for receiving spam. Their conclusions follow.

Chatrooms were most risky with 100% of all posted email addresses receiving spam. Amazingly, it took just eight minutes after initial posting for the first unsolicited message to hit.

Newsgroups and web pages logged in at second place, with 86% of addresses posted in these locations receiving spam.

Free personal web page services were just half as risky as chatrooms, with 50% of addresses posted here receiving spam.

Message board users had a 30% chance of receiving spam after address posting, and 9% of addresses posted in email service directories were spammed.

Of particular concern, the FTC notes, is the fact that the type of spam delivered was not related to the sites where the email addresses were posted. For example, email addresses gathered from children's newsgroups received a large amount of adult content and work-at-home spam.

How can I protect myself and my email address?

  • Never reply to porn spam, not even to follow removal or unsubscribe instructions. By responding, you are telling the pornster not only that your email account is valid, but also that you read his unsolicited message. Most likely he will continue to use and sell your address.
  • Don't open email messages from senders you don't know, or whose addresses you don't recognize. And never open attachments from unknown senders. Simply delete the email.
  • Guard your personal email address by opening a second account with a free Web-based service to use when you'll be interacting with strangers for such activities as posting messages on bulletin boards, participating in chat rooms, and filling out surveys or entering contests on the Web.
  • The only sure way to stop pornographic email if you have been receiving it is to change your email address and then guard your new one by never displaying it in public places, which include newsgroups, chatrooms, websites or online service membership directories.
  • When creating a new email address, the same rules apply as for choosing a password. (see How to Choose a Password). In order to keep your address from being captured by the phone book or dictionary approach above, use a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols.
  • Learn about email technology so you'll be able to complain more effectively to your ISP, to the sender's ISP, or to government representatives when reporting your complaints.
  • Don't bother to retaliate against the spammer by spamming them back, or with malicious emails or phone calls, etc. Most return addresses used by spammers are forged anyway, so it ends up being a waste of time, and often causes a lot of headaches to the innocent parties whose email addresses were stolen or falsified.
  • Use an email filter. Filtering technology is becoming more and more sophisticated and can quickly put you in control of the content that reaches your inbox.
  • In addition, you may want to consider getting a filtered Internet Service Provider (ISP). Although most filtered ISPs don't block the porn spam itself, they do block-to the limits of their technical capabilities-the porn websites that the email links to.

Can anyone do anything about unsolicited porn email?

  • If the pornography involves children in any way, it can be reported at http://www.ncmec.org or by contacting the FBI. For the number of your local FBI field office, visit http://www.fbi.gov/contact/fo/fo.htm.
  • Contact the US District Attorney and the Department of Justice and file your complaint as a possible violation of the Federal Obscenity Law. Be sure to send them a copy of the email with the header. For a list of US Attorneys' offices across the country go to http://www.moralityinmedia.org, click "Obscenity Enforcement" then "US Attorneys' Records."
  • Morality in Media has recently introduced a new website, ObscenityCrimes.org as a tool for concerned citizens to report illegal hardcore pornography on the Internet. Go to http://www.obscenitycrimes.org and click "Make a Report."
  • Forward unsolicited porn spam to the Federal Trade Commission at UCE@FTC.GOV.
  • The Department of Justice can be emailed at AskDOJ@usdoj.gov. (See DOJ Busts Internet Website for Obscenity.)
  • Complain to your Internet Service Provider by forwarding the email with the header and a statement outlining your concerns about the email. Your ISP is the network that you personally go through to use the Internet. Some common examples are Microsoft Network (MSN) msn.com; America Online (AOL) aol.com; and Hotmail hotmail.com. Your ISP's domain name will be the last part of your email address, right after the @ sign.
  • Also, forward the email with its header to the sender's Internet Service Provider along with your concerns about the email, asking them to take action against the sender. Most ISPs have policies prohibiting spamming and want to cut off spammers who abuse their system. For more detail on how to find the administrator of the sender's ISP and other helpful information, go to http://www.moralityinmedia.org and click "Stop Porn spam."
  • You can also write to your Congressman to let him/her know your feelings about pornography and porn spam, and how you would like to see some legislation passed to help counteract this problem. For complete Congressional contact information, go to http://www.house.gov.

We hope this information has been of value to you. ContentWatch is committed to educating our readers about the dangers posed on the Internet, and providing solutions to combat them. If you have any comments regarding this article or the issue of stopping porn spam, please send your comments to comments@contentwatch.com.

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