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A Bad Rap

Have you been slammed as a spammer? Here's how to fight back.

Sending e-mail to people without their permission, known as "spamming," isn't just wrong . . . it's evil. I'm not a spammer. But I have been accused of this deviant act. An accusation can provoke a nasty response from a recipient or even get your Web site shut down. Responding to any such allegation is vital to prevent your site from going offline or to help you get back online quickly.

"On average, we get 9 million spam complaints each month," says Julian Haight, creator of SpamCop, a notification system that allows spam victims to alert the spammer's ISP. The ISP then deals directly with the spammer who is using its servers to issue unsolicited e-mail.

ISPs receive complaints via SpamCop or other auto-reporting tools, and many have custom applications for tracking this growing problem. ISPs then send out "spam reports" to suspected spammers.

If you receive a spam report, follow the instructions promptly and carefully. I got one when an organization sent out its newsletter, in which an article of mine was featured. My Web site address was included.

Fortunately, the organization immediately responded to the spam report and explained to my ISP that I hadn't issued a "spamvertisement," that I was a guest author. However, my Web site was still disabled for 24 hours. "We get about 100 to 200 responses every day to the spam reports. Many false reports go unrefuted," says Haight.

A few actions can help protect you from spam traps. Most important, don't buy software that harvests e-mail addresses or bulk e-mail lists. Rob Bell, president and CEO of 1ShoppingCart.com Corp., an e-commerce solution provider that serves more than 8,000 clients, reports that many spam complaints are generated from their customers who import e-mail lists. "Individuals who subscribe to these lists never know what they are going to get. Often, they forget that they subscribed to the list in the first place and then send a spam complaint," says Bell.

Offering a "double opt-in" procedure also deters spam complaints. Subscribers opt in to receive e-mail. Then their first e-mail asks them to confirm their registration. Also, avoid future confusion by informing subscribers what will be in your e-mail. "Don't lure them in with a prize then hammer them to death with marketing, unless you are very clear about what's going to happen before they agree," warns Haight.

With more spam, comes more complaints. Legitimate e-marketers are at risk for being mislabeled "spammers." So take extra precautions, and know that if you're caught in the spam crossfire, there's a way out.


Speaker and freelance writer Catherine Sedaowns an Internet marketing agency and is author ofSearch Engine Advertising.

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This article was originally published in the June 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: A Bad Rap.

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