Reduce the Spam in Your Inbox, Mailbox and Voicemail

Pretty much anyone — man, woman or child — has at some point received an email telling them they weren’t sufficiently endowed. This is spam, and it sucks.

Spam is one of the Internet constants that comes with being a digital citizen, but it extends into our analog lives as well. Have an email account, mailbox or phone number? You’ve probably received unsolicited or unwanted messages and promotions from magazines, companies, strangers, etc. hoping to grab your attention.

There are dozens of origin stories for how “spam” got its name. Spam was first the name of a food product better known for being gross than for being “ham.” It got a bad reputation for it’s bland taste, cheap price and presumably low-quality contents. Some say it’s those qualities which made “spam” the apt nickname for the low-quality, nondescript messages that fill up our inboxes — digital and otherwise.

It has since taken on several less-than-kind acronyms such as “Sales Promotion and Marketing,” “Short Pointless Annoying Messages” and “Stupid Person’s AdvertiseMents.”

So how do you get rid of the spam in your life? We’ve got some quick tips on how to cut down your email spam, junk mail and unsolicited phone calls.

1. Email

Filters: The easiest and simplest way to get rid of spam is to pay somebody else to do it. Filters are mostly effective for email spam, though they’re still not 100% accurate. Filters have a tendency to miss craftily-worded spam or even send some of your important messages to the trash. Big companies like Symantec have inbox-filtering software for a price.

There are also free options such as Spamfighter which do a comparable job. Be forewarned, while the pay services usually include more options and customer support, simply paying for software doesn’t make it more effective than some free alternatives. Also, these tools often only work for domain email clients, so if you’re trying to clean up your Gmail or Hotmail account, these might not be the best bet.

DIY: Using a cloud-based email service like Gmail is both a blessing a curse. Most online email accounts have some sort of spam filter already built into them but these filters are hard to upgrade or supplement with other services.

Fortunately, these filters can often “learn” what is spam through manual use. Over time, your inbox should naturally get better at figuring out what is legit email and what is another Nigerian Prince asking for money. Online email services usually have a spam button that you can click to report junk emails and a “not spam” button to correct false positives.

You can also create your own spam filters to get the best results. Gmail users, for example, can create filters for their incoming mail that flags or deletes emails that contain lewd content or common spam keywords. This strategy can backfire if, for example, a friend sends you a joke about Viagra or legitimately needs you to send money to Nigeria (for a non-profit, perhaps). These messages will automatically get flagged. To help, Google has a “test” feature that lets you test-run a filter before you apply it so you can better fine tune your results.

You can also try setting up a spamtrap — a nondescript email account used simply to accrue and therefor identify spam email. Spamtraps only work if the address isn’t used or given to contacts. That way, any emails sent to the account can be reasonably called spam and filtered. This is one way — among others — that many professional services identify spam for their clients.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Garrettc

2. Snail Mail

How do you keep junk mail out of your actual, real-life inbox? This one is actually a little easier since it’s much harder to anonymously solicit through the post office. If you’re sick of getting catalogs and credit card offers, you can put your info into national “Do Not Mail” registries such as DMAChoice. DMAChoice was developed by the Direct Marketing Association to help manage the public’s mail. Others, like DoNotMail are privately run.

While most services (especially ones backed by the organization that sends the stuff) have a pretty good batting average, they aren’t guaranteed to stop 100% of your junk mail.

Image courtesy of Flickr, loop_oh

3. Phone Calls

Oddly enough, the most frustrating kind of spam — telemarketer calls — are actually the easiest to get rid of. When someone calls you, simply say to the caller: “Please permanently remove me from your calling list.” The company is legally obligated to stop calling you. While this may not prevent them interrupting your dinner once, they technically are not allowed to do it again.

Preemptively, you can register your home or mobile number on the National Do Not Call Registry, a government database managed by the FTC that businesses are required to respect when building their call lists.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Lazurite

4. Be Smart

For better or for worse, the best advice is just to be smart. Don’t give out your email or physical address unless it is absolutely necessary, don’t post your information in a place that is easily accessible and don’t start online fights with spammers. Two more basic tips:

  • Create a “Dummy” email: This is easier than it sounds. Just create an email you don’t plan on using for personal or business reasons. Then use this email when you sign up for online deals or if stores ask for an email address at point of purchase. Having a dummy email address can divert a lot of unwanted spam away from your real accounts.
  • Don’t Check the Boxes: Any web form that requires information will inevitably ask you if you’d like to receive updates about the company or future products. Make sure that box is unchecked. We know, this sounds beyond dumb. You’d be surprised how many people blitz through web forms or simply don’t read the fine print. Taking that extra second will save you from having to deal with spam later on.
  • (Via Mashable!.)