What's bugging you? Inbox-clogging 'spam'

ABC7 Eyewitness News: What's Bugging You?
LOS ANGELES That's what's really bugging viewer Joan Martz.

"I get e-mails from other countries saying I've won a sweepstakes. I don't even remember entering, and all of a sudden there is $1.5 million for me to collect, and I want to know how are they getting my e-mail and how are they getting through spam?" asked Martz.

At best, it's a nuisance. At worst, it could compromise your computer or trick into giving up personal information.

"There are a lot of thing you can do about spam, but none of them are perfect, so you've got to know that going in," said Brian Cooley, an editor-at-large for CNET.com.

Cooley says one place to start winning the war against spam is your own Internet provider.

"Look at the ISP you're using. Your Internet provider will often have some good tools there that you can turn on that may not be switched on already to really aggressively clamp down on the kinds of messages that come to you," said Cooley.

"Spam is one of the common ways to get other kinds of 'malware' onto your computer. You might simply click on a link that supposedly takes you to a Web site where you can enter information, and that Web site could be infected and put things on your computer," said Marian Merritt, an Internet safety advocate at Symantec.

Merritt says you may think you know about spam, but every day new scams pop up everywhere, especially offers and prizes where all you have to do is give them a little information.

"Of course there is no such thing as free money, but it's a time when people are like, 'Oh, found money. Maybe it's something.' They say you're a beneficiary to something, and I have those too, and I think, 'Maybe it's someone in my family that I didn't know and they left me money,'" said Martz.

"Nobody is getting to select you from all the millions and billions of people on the planet to give you millions of dollars," explained Merritt.

"Don't reply to spam. When you get that junky e-mail and it has an 'unsubscribe' link, that may be a trap, very common. It's a way to verify that you are a live e-mail address, and then they'll put you on the gold list, because they can verify that you're a real, live body," said Cooley.

Spammers can get your e-mail when you post something to a blog, or even with Facebook or Twitter. So be careful where you post personal information. There is also anti-spam software you can download. Also, look for certain things in e-mails that will give it away as spam.

"Do you know the person sending you the e-mail? Is it coming from a legitimate source? Are there spelling mistakes?" Merritt said. "When you think this is spam, your response should be to delete it. Your response should never be to respond to it."

Unfortunately for all of us, spam will continue to grow. Even with anti-spam software, it's hard to stop it completely without sometimes stopping legitimate e-mails. The most important technique is to make sure your e-mail address doesn't get out any more than it has to.

Don't enter every sweepstakes or contest on the Web, and never download an attachment unless you know the sender. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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