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How Do the Spammers Get Your Email Address?

by Dave on June 22, 2010

Most of the time, you get spam because somehow, somewhere, you either gave your e-mail address to someone or it appeared on the web.

Let me count the ways….

Very often spammers get your e-mail by simply scanning the Internet with automated software and ‘harvesting’ every e-mail addresses they find. If your e-mail is posted anywhere in public, the spammers will find it.

Some examples: if you post your e-mail address on a blog or forum, the spammers will find it. If you post your e-mail on your profile in many social media, the spammers will find it. If you’re a member of an organization or group and your e-mail is listed publically, the spammers will find it. Any e-mail address you post in public will be captured by spammers and you will get spam.

Here’s a good Wikipedia article on the whole business of e-mail harvesting:

Other fertile ground for spammers is in forwarded e-mail, like those you get from your Aunt Betty or other friends and family. You know the ones that contain all the e-mail addresses of everyone who has gotten that e-mail before you. They’re forwarded by people who don’t understand the risk of using CC (carbon copy). Eventually those e-mails can reach someone who harvests all those e-mails and adds them to a spammers list.

Or maybe you bought a product or service from a less than reputable business. Some businesses will sell or rent their list to others. That list could eventually end up in the hands of spammers.

Spammers may also use a dictionary attack. This works by guessing at common usernames at a specific domain. For example, [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], etc. Those e-mails accepted for delivery are added to the spammers list. Those e-mails that are bounced back to the spammer are rejected from their list. As mentioned in the previous post, sending e-mails is nearly free, so these tactics cost them next to nothing.

Once your e-mail address is on the spammers list, there’s no way to remove it.

That brings me to an important rule:
post in public an e-mail address you wish to keep private.

Consider having multiple e-mail addresses, or using a service that supplies you with disposable e-mail addresses. That’s a topic for another post.

Related posts:

  1. Foil Spammers – Use BCC: instead of CC: in Your E-mail
  2. How to Stop Spam – The First Step
  3. Who is Sending All This Spam… and Why?

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