Sudden Onslaught of Junk E-mail
I've been fortunate to have spent the last couple of years relatively spam-free. This was after many years of being bombarded by junk e-mail messages as you've just described. Apparently, despite my insulation from the world of spam, it appears that junk mail is alive and well. Let me share a few tips and hopefully you'll soon be able to tame the beast.
Protect your E-mail Address
You asked, "What did I do?" While I'd love to say it's not your fault, you didn't do anything wrong, there's a chance that perhaps you need to change your e-mail sharing behavior. First, have you recently created a Web site or blog? If so, did you post your e-mail address on your Contact page? Have you posted to any forums recently? When posting to forums, did you include your e-mail address?
Marketers use Web crawlers and spiders to crawl the Web in search of e-mail addresses. That's why you'll often see e-mail addresses posted with words rather than typical e-mail address symbols. For example, rather than email@example.com you might see: your name [at] email dot com along with instructions to substitute the appropriate symbols when sending messages.
If you know of Web sites or forums where you have publicly posted your e-mail address, do your best to get the address removed. This won't stop the current onslaught of junk e-mail messages but it will prevent others from harvesting your e-mail address.
Offline E-mail Sharing
Have you signed up for a "win a free trip to Hawaii" type giveaway at a car show or some other event? These giveaways are a marketer's dream come true as people willingly reveal their income range, address, phone number, and e-mail address just for a chance at winning a prize. Don't share your e-mail address offline and you'll be less likely to get online junk. While you're at it, don't share your other personal information so readily either.
Get a Disposable E-mail Address
It's useful to have a main e-mail address for corresponding with your contacts and a secondary e-mail address for signing up for websites, forums, newletters, groups, and so on. Be stingy with your main e-mail address and sign up for a free Hotmail, Gmail, or Yahoo Mail account for all other purposes. That way, you can still sign up for services that require an e-mail address, but you won't have to worry about being bombarded with spam just because you've revealed your address.
Read the Fine Print
When signing up for services, newsletters, free downloads, etc, read the fine print. Many say they will share your e-mail address with "partners," others say they won't. In addition, little check boxes are often pre-filled out authorizing being added to a marketing list or receiving future promotional messages.
Be Wary of the Unsubscribe Features
Just because an unsubscribe feature is available, doesn't mean that the marketer will honor your request. In fact, in many cases, unsubscribing has the opposite effect as you are confirming to the marketer that your e-mail address is valid. By replying, you're telling the spammer that you did receive the e-mail. Guess what? Your address is now confirmed and even more valuable to the spammer. The spammer can then turnaround and resell your address to other spammers who all want good e-mail addresses!
Fight back by checking LashBack.com's untrusted Unsubscribe database.
Install AntiSpam Software
AntiSpam software has improved over the years. A variety of products are available including anti-spam features built into some security suites such as Trend Micro PC-Cillin Internet Security. Standalone programs such as ParetoLogic Spam Controls detect and block spam before it arrives. In addition, your current e-mail client may have spam filtering. For example, Windows Live Mail comes with built-in antispam features. Go to the Tools menu and click Safety Options. From here, you can adjust the settings.
Change your E-mail Address
If the antispam software or filters don't make a dent in the volume of messages, it may be necessary to abandon your current e-mail address and start fresh. Doing so is a pain as you'll need to alert all of your contacts. But once done, and actively guarding it, you should enjoy much less spam in the future.