Ways to square off against the spam machine

Consumers can effectively slay much of the spam they're sent with a few key tools and tactics.

First, subscribe to an Internet service provider (ISP) that filters e-mail. America Online, EarthLink, and other major providers offer the safeguard with little added cost. The companies' software blocks messages sent from e-mail accounts notorious for spamming and also searches out common spam terminology in the e-mail header and text.

You can also choose an e-mail program, like Microsoft's Outlook or Hotmail, or Yahoo's free e-mail service, that screens spam that might get through the ISP's first line of defense. Filter settings, which route the flow of messages into a user's separate "junk mail" box, are adjustable.

Broader protection costs a bit extra. Businesses now pay about $5,000 for screening software that protects as many as 500 employees. Consumer programs are available at a fraction of the cost. Novasoft's SpamKiller (www.spamkiller.com) allows users to custom design new filters based on spam already received. The software costs $30. A 30-day trial run is free.

There are a number of free downloads with some fun perks. SPAM Punisher, for one, helps users track down a spammer's ISP and send the company a complaint, at which point the ISP normally will deny the spammer future Internet access. Download SPAM Punisher from CNET (www.cnet.com).

The best form of prevention, experts say, is to protect your e-mail address. After receiving spam, never follow directions to reply to the message and type "remove" in the subject area, or respond to links that say "click here to stop receiving these offers." These responses tell spammers that your account is active and will usually encourage more spamming.

Be conscious not to let your e-mail address appear anywhere online - whether on your Internet homepage or in a chat group.

Rather than curtail online activity, consider establishing a variety of e-mail accounts for different uses: one for work, one for friends, another for online shopping and, perhaps, browsing through some select ads.

Secrecy is a final alternative. Websites like despammed.com and spammotel.com provide e-mail aliases for those who don't wish to post a personal address on newsgroups or Internet guestbooks.

Messages sent to an alias are automatically routed to the user's personal account. Some programs will track how many messages are sent from a particular sender, and at what date and time.

Most aliases can be immediately suspended or canceled without affecting a personal account.

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