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Outsmarting the spammers

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on June 13, 2003
(Issue 2124, Taking it with you)

A few months back, I wrote how my long-time e-mail address was being lost to corporate cutbacks – that the conglomerate that bought my ISP was getting out of the residential connectivity business, and taking my very first Internet e-mail address with it.

Losing was a sentimental bummer, but hardly a tragedy – I'd already switched most of my friends over to a year or more earlier.

Only it turned out that the spammers had gotten hold of that address as well – which I had sprinkled all over my web sites to allow folks to quickly contact me with news of broken links or updates or suggestions for other links.

So now I'm getting rid of all my public e-mail addresses.

The many flavors of convenience

While it was convenient for folks wanting to get ahold of me to have my e-mail plastered everywhere, after awhile it wasn't so convenient for me to have to wade through dozens, then hundreds of spam messages per day.

And I sure didn't want to wait until it was thousands of spam per day before I did something.

So while I hated to do it, I've gone to a form-based system for folks to get ahold of me off my web sites. If you don't know my new address and want to contact me, you still click on any of the e-mail links or my highlighted name on my web site – but instead of having your e-mail client open with a new address to me already created, you're taken to a page on my site where you can send me a message.

It's a handy little form written for me by Morgan Davis, former tech whiz at CTS, one of the very first companies to start selling Internet connections back in the early '90s. Morgan's now struck out on his own, doing some hosting stuff, and one of the services he now sells is what I refer to as an e-mail firewall.

It still lets folks get ahold of me – they simply fill out the form with their name, e-mail address and any message they have, and then a robot forwards that all to me without ever revealing my actual e-mail address.

If you try sending e-mail to, it now bounces back to you informing you that the mailbox is no longer active – and directing you to the form.

Darn-near foolproof

Now I'm sure some idiot spammer may well decide to fill out my form and submit it – pitching me porn or human growth hormone pills.

But for now, it's working fine – in just under a week of using it, I've gotten in touch with most of my friends and associates to give them the new address, and the few I forgot (sorry, Doc!) have found the form and gotten ahold of me.

Best of all, I've gotten no spam – nary a one.

And there's no way for spammers to automate the filling out of forms – while many ISPs do offer a similar service (and you might want to check with yours), it's far easier to make each form slightly different to stop a spam robot than it is to write that robot to find them, fill them out properly and submit them.

In short, the very characteristic of e-mail that makes it so attractive to spammers – the ease with which it can be automated – is utterly absent from the form.

It makes getting in touch with me the first time a little less convenient – but leaves me far more time to respond to those I value: family, friends and readers.