Consumer Reports investigates unsolicited e-mail advertisements

| 7/11/2003

Consumer Reports Magazine recently published information on how consumers can combat spam, or unsolicited e-mail advertisements.

The information was published in its August 2003 cover story, "E-mail Spam: How to stop it from stalking you."

The battle between those who send unsolicited e-mail advertisements and those blocking them has become an arms race, the magazine said. On one side are hordes of spammers finding ways to penetrate consumers' inboxes. On the other are Internet providers with industrial-strength spam-blocking software, organizations that blacklist spammers and consumers armed with retail spam-blocking programs.

Spam is an issue not only for the general public, but for truckers specifically. John Siebert of the OOIDA Foundation says that according to the organization's most recent member survey, 57 percent of the group's trucker members own a personal computer. Half use the computer for business records, and 14 percent have a computer in their truck.

On a typical day America Online prevents 1.5 billion spams from reaching its 35 million customers. The company averages 7 million complaints daily about spam that reaches customers. There are four common ways in which spammers get your e-mail address: public Web pages; chat rooms; use of "dictionary attacks" or common combinations of names and numbers; and online registration at Web sites.

The magazine said in a release that its experts studied hundreds of spams, used decoys to attract yet more spams, tracked down spammers and tested products that filter spam on a home computer.

At the heart of spam, the magazine reported, is money.

"Spamming is far cheaper than conventional mail," Consumer Reports' Senior Project Editor Jeff Fox said. "Spammers can broadcast a million messages for a little as $500. If even a few recipients buy what's advertised, the campaign most likely pays."

Consumers must spend time sifting through spam and can feel violated when pornographic spam invades their home. They can miss out on legitimate e-mail that's mistakenly blocked from delivery by their Internet provider or they themselves hurriedly delete in the course of eradicating spam.