Email Drivers License
Before you can drive a car, you have
to pass a test, because by driving badly can hurt yourself or others.
But there's no such test before you start using email, although bad use
of email can hurt yourself or others, too. Granted, the
consequences aren't as bad as they could be from bad driving, but
still, you need to learn the ropes with email so that nobody gets
hurt. This page tells you how to do that.
Not hurting others
- Don't type your friends' email addresses into web forms.
Some sites let you enter friend or family email addresses to send them invitations, share pictures, or copies of travel itineraries. But whatever site you type an address into might start sending out spam to the person whose address you typed in. Even if the company is trustworthy, their database can get hacked by spammers who then start sending out spam. If you wouldn't share your friends' home addresses and phone numbers with strangers, don't share their email addresses.
- Use BCC to avoid revealing the recipients' email addresses to
If you send a message to a bunch of people and put all their addresses in the TO: field, then everyone who gets the message can see everyone else's email address. If those people already have each others' addresses, then of course that's fine. But if they don't, then you've just made their addresses semi-public without their permission. What's worse, any of the recipients could have a virus or malware or their computer which steals addresses from their email and sends it to spammers.
To avoid this problem, put everyone's address in the BCC: field. That will hide the addresses so nobody can see anybody else's address. Put your own address in the TO: field, because some mail filters think a message is spam if the TO: field is empty.
- Don't send messages with huge attachments.
Unless you know your recipient is happy to get big messages, don't send messages that are larger than about 250k. They might be checking their mail on a slow WiFI or hotel connection, and your message has to load before all the other ones. If you choke the connection, then you force them to wait before they can get all their other mail.
- Don't send email petitions.
Email-based petitions aren't legitimate. Any real petition will have a website where you can sign. See email petitions for more.
Not hurting yourself
- Use one address for friends and family, another for everything
else. Or, use plus-addressing.
If you register for accounts on websites or buy stuff online, sooner or later you're going to get spam—maybe lots of it. Even if you think you can trust the merchant or site where you're typing in your address is trustworthy, spammers could hack their database and steal the customers' email addresses. It happens all the time.
The solution is easy: Use one address for friends and family, and another address for everything else. That way spammers won't ruin your important address.
Another solution is to use plus-addressing with mail providers that offer it, like Gmail. Say your address is firstname.lastname@example.org. When you sign up for an account at Home Depot, you use email@example.com. The mail still goes to your regular email account. And then if you start getting spam to that special address, you can turn just that special address off, and still get all your other mail.
- Don't post your naked address in forums, profiles, or ads.
Automated programs called spambots scour the Internet, lifting email addresses from web pages. If you put your address on a webpage, spammers will definitely get it, 100% of the time. So, don't put your address on web pages, or if you must, at least disguise it very well, with something like melvin`at`example.com.
If you have your own website where you need to put your address for readers or customers to contact you, see my separate article on hiding your email address from spambots.
- Don't click links in email messages.
Scammers send messages disguised to look like they're from your bank, PayPal, Facebook, UPS, an airline, etc. They say there's a problem with your account, and ask you to log in to fix it. (Or they send a "receipt" for something you didn't buy, so that you click onto it to try to figure out what it's for.) But if you click the link in the email message, it takes you to the scammer's fake site, disguised to look like a real site. If you then try to log in by typing your username and password, you've just handed your login details to the scammers. They can then use that login to get into your real account. Note that you can't tell who really sent a message by looking at the Sender address. Anyone can put any name/address as the return on a paper envelope, and email works the same way. So, don't click links in email messages. Instead, load the sites in a web browser by typing in the address or using a bookmark.
- Nobody needs your help in moving thousands or millions of
dollars from some overseas account.
A common scam is the one where the sender tells a story with the result that they have thousands or millions of dollars that they need your help in moving to your country, and in exchange they'll give you something like 10% of the proceeds. These are scams 100% of the time. If you reply, they'll come up with a reason that you need to send them some money to facilitate the transfer. If you comply, they'll come up with more reasons why you need to send more money. It never ends, and you never see a penny of the money they promised you.
Last Update: October 2012