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Protecting your e-mail addresses from spammers

Spammers use different methods to obtain e-mail addresses to send unsolicited messages to. Bots crawl the web to collect e-mail addresses listed on web sites. These bots are called harvesters. Hackers also obtain the addresses of the correspondents of their victims. They collect them from hacked mailboxes or infected machines. Some companies also sell people's personal data to spammers.

There are some things you can do to reduce the chance of your e-mail address ending up in the hands of spammers.

* Avoid listing e-mail addresses directly on your website. If you need to provide means of contact, it is recommended that you have a contact form instead. Having a contact form will prevent spammers from obtaining your e-mail address. If you get too much spam that is being posted directly through the contact form, you may consider adding a CAPTCHA protection to it against bots.

If you must list contact e-mail addresses on your website, you should not list them in plain text. There are techniques you can use to make it harder for spammers to collect the addresses from the website automatically. All of these methods have downsides, so you need to decide which one suits your needs best.

- You can replace the @ symbol in the email address with the word "at", and the dot(s) with the word "dot", eventually surrounded by some characters, such as square brackets, for example, if your e-mail address is [email protected], you can write it this way:

contact [at] example [dot] com

- Another similar method is to display the e-mail address as an image such as:

example image

- You may also utilize a script that will scramble or encode the e-mail address. You can look for such a script online, or a professional can implement such a solution for your website.

Harvesters will need more resources to interpret an address displayed using the above methods, while the majority of your web visitors will easily understand the actual address. They may only experience the minor inconvenience that they will not be able to simply copy-paste your e-mail address directly, and there is a possibility of mistakes while entering it. You should note that no solution is perfect. If an e-mail address is visible to a human, it may be interpreted by a bot.

* With our service, there is no limit on the amount of e-mail addresses you can create, and you can set up e-mail forwarding. This gives you the opportunity to use different e-mail addresses for different purposes: registrations, online forums, contact forms on your website, etc. If a forwarding e-mail address starts receiving too much spam, you can simply delete it.

* You must keep your devices free of malware, as hackers may steal your own e-mail address and the e-mail addresses of your contacts. You can read relevant tips on securing your devices at Importance of the security of your local devices.

* You should never follow unsubscribe links in apparent spam messages or in messages sent from services you have not subscribed for. In almost all cases, these links are either invalid, or, even worse, they prove to the spammers that their message reached a real person who monitors the mailbox. This raises the value of your e-mail address on the illegal market where it will be again sold in bulk with others.

For the same reason, you should not respond to suspicious or spam mails, and you must not click any other links in them.

* Do not list your main contact e-mail address in the WHOIS details of your domain name. Spammers target the listed contacts of domain names. You can list a forwarding e-mail address as contact. Over the time, it will be getting more and more spam. You should replace this address periodically.

Although there is much you can do to limit the exposure of your e-mail addresses to spammers, there are some things that you can hardly control.

Common addresses such as [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], etc, are a default target of spammers. Such mailboxes exist at many domains, so spammers send messages to them blindly, presuming their possible existence. You should avoid having such mailboxes, unless it is necessary for your business.

Another way your address may end up with spammers is if a correspondent of yours gets infected with malware and their contacts are stolen. The same may happen with a company that has your e-mail address -- they may get hacked, and their user database may be obtained by spammers.