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Can anyone stop spam? Probably not — but here’s how to reduce it

A tech wizard weighs in with some practical tips.

PORTLAND, Maine — High on the list of things people could all do without, right up there with browntail moth rash, is spam. Not the canned meat but what one dictionary defines as “irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent on the internet to a large number of recipients.”

What can folks do to stop or at least reduce spam, whether coming through email, phone, or even a contact form on a business website? 207’s tech guy, Rich Brooks of Flyte New Media in Portland, has some tips. Here are the talking points he provided.

Question: Can anyone really stop spam?

Answer: It's a never-ending battle. However, there are some things people can do to severely reduce spam to a more manageable level. People are getting more spam in the forms of texts and robocalls.

Question: What can we do to protect ourselves?

Answer: Robotexts and spam texts have become commonplace, but between phones, carriers, and everyone's actions, people can limit their impact. First, don't respond. That just proves a number is legit, and they can keep sending stuff. Also, don't interact. Clicking on a link or attachment could trigger malware that infects your phone.

While legitimate robotexts (which sounds like an oxymoron) can be stopped by just replying STOP, that doesn't work with scammers. If some number keeps on texting you, you can block them, which can be done in your phone's settings. The downside is scammers tend to "spoof" the number, so it's not really blocking them. There are also several apps in the app store that block or hide suspicious calls, ranging from free to several dollars a month.

Lastly, some carriers have additional spam blocking software, but some of those have a monthly fee attached. People can also report the text to their carrier by texting the number 7726 (which spells spam).

Question: How about those robocalls?

Answer: If someone doesn't recognize a number, they should let it go to voicemail. People shouldn't call the number back unless they know the business or person. Similar to blocking texts, anyone can block phone numbers as well in their phone's settings.

They can also register their cell phone with the National Do Not Call Registry, but this will only stop legitimate callers. And charities, political groups, and debt collectors don't need to abide by it.

Finally, people can also file a complaint with the FCC.

Question: Although email spam has been around for years, what's the latest for keeping it out of your inbox?

Answer: Many platforms like Gmail and outlook have decent built-in tools, and ISPs have gotten much more aggressive with stopping spam before it ever reaches an inbox. But that's not going to be 100%. Apple allows users to create a throwaway email that will forward to a regular email account, hiding a real email when people sign up for things. There are other services that offer similar services as well.

Beyond that, don't click on links. Don't hit reply. And if it seems sketchy, don't even try and unsubscribe.

Users can further set up filters to stop certain types of emails coming in, possibly based on topics or specific phrases like "Canadian pharmacy" or "Russian brides."

Question: Maine has a lot of small business owners, and their website contact forms are passing along spam, too. What can they do?

Answer: A certain amount of spam coming to the inbox may be the cost of doing business online. However, business owners can use things like Captchas to limit the number of spam emails from their contact forms, and these days there are "invisible" captchas that humans don't see, but bots do. So they fill out fields to complete the form, but that actually triggers the spam filter.

Anyone can set up filters that will move those emails into a junk folder, like if they are in Russian or include links or specific words.

If people want to get really aggressive, they can stop people from filling out forms from certain parts of the world if they find that they get a lot of junk from specific countries.

But again, nobody wants to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so people don't want to block legitimate leads from coming in.

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