image-emailDoes email sprout like weeds in your Inbox by the minute? If you’re like most people, as much as 80% or more of your email is spam. Have you ever wondered: How did they get your email address in the first place? It’s simple, they harvest it!

Some email address harvesting methods are perfectly legal, others are less so. Either way, the use of a harvested email address is typically not ethical. It costs very little to send an email. As a result, there is no pressure on spammers to limit how many addresses are targeted or to restrict sending an email to persons that are likely to be interested. It’s similar to blowing on a dandelion head and watching the seeds float away. To improve their chances that at least some of the seeds, or in this case emails, land in a place suitable for growth, the spammers have to produce lots of seeds (i.e., emails).

All good gardeners use preventative measures to help prevent weeds. Here are some tips to avoid having your email addresses harvested.

For general web browsing and email:

  • Get a disposable/auxiliary email address for use on websites, forums, and the like.
  • Set your email to block HTML in an email until you can assess if it is from a legitimate source. If HTML is enabled, you risk your email address being validated as working by simply opening the email.
  • Only use reputable anti-spam, spyware and virus software. Not sure? Ask us.
  • Avoid using web browser toolbars.

If posting your email address on a website:

  • Munge it! Address munging is essentially changing the address to something like “jane at yourcompany dot com” instead of posting [email protected].
  • Make it an image. This technique is very effective at preventing email harvesting.
  • Use secure contact forms. By having someone fill out a form, you can avoid exposing an email address altogether.

Want to test your email address to see if it’s ripe for harvest? Try “Googling” your email address. The results you see represent the minimum places that are visible to harvesting scripts. Where possible, remove your email address from the page. Sometimes, it was posted by a well-meaning person or organization. If that’s the case, typically they will be more than willing to remove your address from their website. Use these techniques to help prevent spammers from reaping what you sow—your email address.

First published in our April 2015 IT Radix Resource newsletter