Spam and the BCC

or How Do Spammers Get My Email?

Spam can be a frustrating, maddening nuisance: it overruns your inbox and some aggressive email filters can prevent you from actually getting the messages you want or need. So have you ever wondered how Spammers get your email address in the first place? Have you ever hit the “forward” button after receiving one of those viral cute/patriotic/religious/silly-test emails from one of your friends?

If you answered yes to the last question, then you have your answer to the first one.

It’s called email harvesting and it is a well practiced technique used by people to amass huge lists of actual email addresses.

These lists can be sold for big money because they are verified email addresses. If you think I’m mistaken, then look closer at the next forwarded email you get from a friend or family member: you literally have to scroll down through possibly hundreds of bulk email addresses before you even get to the content of the email.

The worst culprits are the ones that don’t even try to hide their nefarious intentions and practically broadcast that they are harvesting email addresses by instructing you to include the original sender in the copies you forward. You know which emails I’m talking about: “make a wish and send this on to 16 of your fiends, but be sure and include the original sender…and within 48 hours your wish will come true” or something to that effect. Imagine the hand-wringing glee on the part of the shadowy figure who started that chain as, in a matter of days he has a list of millions of email addresses.

So What Can Be Done?

Well, the obvious choice would be to not forward any emails, but I know that is not going to happen because it is a fun, social activity, and helps you stay in touch with friends and family (I hope it is not because you believe something will happen if you send it out–or worse; that something bad will happen if you don’t). The best practice is to forward the email as you normally would, but before you hit send, edit the body of the email to remove everything but the message–just delete all the email addresses. But don’t hit send just yet. Use the power of BCC

Blind Carbon Copy (BCC) is the best thing you can do for any email you send out to more than one or two people. The reason is that BCC hides the email addresses from the public which tell’s your recipient you care about their privacy, and more importantly, prevents it from falling into the hands of thugs who would hijack the “known-good” email addresses for financial gain (and there is plenty of money to be had, hence the spam problem).

All email applications have a BCC function, usually a text field below the CC field. You could type into BCC the same way you would the TO: or CC: fields, or cut and paste. It’s good rpactice and your recipients will thank you for it.

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