Tag Archives: chain letters

Email Marketing – How to Avoid being placed on Spamming Lists

Filtering unsolicited email messages or SPAM is a very important issue for everybody. Companies, Internet Service Providers and Email Providers are spending more and more resources to become effective to blocking Unsolicited Emails. They will blacklist anyone who will try to send SPAM and they will stop delivering emails from sources known as spammers.
At the same time, Internet Marketing has become an important business component for most of the Companies and Email Marketing is essential for many businesses. How can a company deliver its messages to clients and not get on spam-lists? This post will try to give you some guidance on how to avoid being placed on spam lists.

Rules to avoid being placed on Spamming Lists

User related rules

  • Check the subject line of your email. Do not leave the subject line blank, have a long string of "Re:" or "Fwd:”, or use many exclamation or question marks or use all capital letters.
  • Avoid blacklisted and spammy words in your subject line and message body. Common words blacklisted at different spam filters include pornographic terms, pharmaceutical terms, "free", "money", "mortgage", and "cash."
  • Avoid adding many attachments, using only images or including a long list of URLs in the body of your email message.
  • Reduce the number of identical emails you are sending at one time. Try sending your emails in smaller batches if you have many different people who need to receive the same email.
  • Ask your email recipients to add you to their email program address book or white-list.
  • If you suspect your computer has been infected by a virus or Trojan or any other form of Malware, contact the IT Department immediately.
  • Do not use the Company’s email for personal use. Personal use includes but is not limited to:
    • Electronic Communication for personal use
    • Chain email letters – the distribution of chain letters is strictly interdicted using the corporate email. Chain emails are emails that ask or encourage you to forward the message to other people. Chain letters can include information about new viruses most of the times – hoaxes, promises of good luck, religious messages, request for help, etc…
    • Subscribing to newsletters or email lists is not allowed using the corporate email address. By subscribing to such services, you expose your account and Your Company email server to SPAM.
  • DO NOT send Unsolicited Email.

[ad#Adsense Text 468 wide]

How to avoiding the Spam Lists for the Email Administrator

  • Use and maintain SPF policies. This will help other servers to determine any rogue sender that will try to spoof email addresses in your domain. Remember, maintaining the SPF record is mandatory. If you forget to update the SPF record when an infrastructure change, (such as a new SMTP server), is made other SMTP server will treat the new server as a possible SPAMMER and will flag legitimate email as SPAM.
  • If your Marketing Department is using a new email Marketing Company, don’t forget to update the SPF records, (if they are using your regular addresses).
  • Ideally, the Email Marketing Campaigns should be conducted under a different domain name, or a sub-domain. Example: yourcompany.com is your main domain and you are using admin@yourcompany.com as email addresses and marketing. Yourcompany.com is your Email Marketing Domain Name and your address will be admin@marketing.yourcompany.com.
  • If your users use pop clients to connect to the server make sure you configure a submit port on your server (587), or install a certificate on your server and instruct users to use SSL for sending emails. This will avoid keeping the port 25 open for email clients. This should be open to servers only.
  • Block port 25 for outbound traffic on your company’s firewall. This way even if your computers get infected with a Trojan they will not be able to send messages.
  • The use of a good Anti-Malware is mandatory.
  • Write and distribute policies in the company, this document could be a good start.

How to Avoid the Spam-Lists for the Marketing Department

  • Do not send unsolicited emails – sending an email to someone who unsubscribed or never subscribed is the most serious SPAM offense.
  • Do not use Outlook or any other email client to manage mass emailing. Marketers, sometimes, have the impression that the usage of such email clients for their campaigns, give them more control over the Mass Emailing. But in fact there is no way to manage opt-outs, you will use your own infrastructure for sending mass-emailing which is not good, and you can easily send duplicate messages to your recipients or not send at all.
  • Do not use mass-emailing solutions for your email blasts. Your public IP address will be flagged as SPAMMER.
  • For Mass Emailing, use Companies that are specialized in Email Marketing. They are setup so they minimize the risk to be flagged as SPAMMERS, the applications are feature rich, with tracking options, and give the recipients the opportunity to opt-out if they choose to.
  • If you, still want to use in house mass emailing make sure you insert an unsubscribe address in your email.
  • To make sure your email does not get in the Junk Mailbox, avoid using too many links in your email, and use as little space as possible for images.
  • Do not send too many emails at once, even if the email is perfectly conceived, sending too many emails in a short period could trigger the SPAM filters, and your email will be blocked.

Chain Letters and Spam Email

Email Chain letters are one of the sneakiest and devious ways of SPAM. I consider them a particular case of social engineering.

Chain Letters Target Human Weakness and the Lack of Information.

Even though chain letters come always from your friends, and they look like their purpose is to spread “peace on Earth” or to give you an insightful perspective of life, or ask you to help someone in need, their purpose is Spamming.
You can recognize this by the encouragement to forward the message to your friends or to close the email circle or anything similar. Some of you came here as a result of my SPAM, (I apologize, I had to…).
Sometimes the spammer will go as far as threatening you to send to your friends or else something bad will happen. All of these are various sorts of psychological exploitation. They target human weakness and lack of knowledge.
Most of the times chain letters contain false, misleading, frightening, or foolish messages, Urban Legends, Virus Hoaxes. The Chain Letter has evolved now and it is more subtle nonetheless dangerous. It uses “good luck” promises, “missionary” messages, or even true philosophical dissertations.
No matter what is the method of persuasion, all the chain letters will convince you to send the letter to other people. It is very convincing and it targets human flaws. I am not an easy to scare person but I can remember myself in at least on occasion getting chills up my spine while reading the blackmail at the end of the email. Human brain is easily influenced, once the message read you will start, unconsciously, to act upon validating the prediction. It is a process similar to Hypnosis.
Best way to avoid such events is to delete the message without reading it.
There is also the positive message if you forward the message to 5 friends something wonderful will happen in your life. Who can resist such a promise? Me.

Is It Wrong to Propagate Chain Letters?

Short answer – YES – it’s wrong to propagate chain letters. Previous paragraph explains why.
Long answer:
Sometimes it is hard to ignore some of these messages and discard them. Their message is beautiful, and you would like to share it with your friends. There is not too wrong to do that IF and ONLY IF you follow these simple rules.
Use BCC field when addressing your email, (blind carbon copy). This will conceal the destination addresses.
When the chain letter arrives in your Inbox there are high chances to contain all the previous recipients into its body. Remove all the email addresses in the body, before forwarding the message. This is of no benefit to you, but it will benefit the community, and if many people do this harvesting addresses will be very difficult. Who knows on how many chain letters has circulated my email address?
If you really need to send chain letters, consider using your secondary email address.
Consistency on doing all of these will discourage the creators of such letters to write them, as the benefit from sending them will be null.

The image below shows a portion of the email body of a message that contains all the previous recipients of a chain letter. Using an email harvesting utility I got 417 email addresses only from this message.

Example of email Chain Letter
Chain Letter - Click to enlarge

What does the SPAMMER achieve by these kinds of emails?

They harvest email addresses. How do they do this? The principle is that the more an email circulate the more chances are to come back to the original sender. Even if it doesn’t come back it will go to another SPAMMER in the “Black Hat Web Marketing Community” and made public within the community. Then all the harvested email address will be shared or sold.
Another reason for circulating chain letters is scamming people. There are numerous scamming schemes circulating through emails.
There are also the hoaxes. A lot of chain letters warn about an upcoming virus or a computer threat. Most of them are hoaxes. Some of them are just simple hoax, but some other are cleverly crafted emails, so that when a recipient look for some of the keywords in the respective email, they would be directed by the search engine to targeted websites.

How can the Spammer harvest email addresses?

The main problem comes from the fact that most of the people will never think of hiding email addresses when they are forwarding messages. This makes that an email can sometimes contain hundreds or even thousands of addresses from all the people that forwarded it. The picture bellow depicts such a message.

What can you do to help?

First, whenever you send an email to a list of people add your addresses on the BCC field rather than CC or TO field. The BCC field will hide all the destination addresses.
If you forward a message, delete the transmission history in the message body. Check this article Prevent email SPAM for more information.
Break the chain! Delete the message and do not forward it. You have now the information. Stop for a few minutes before sending the email and think.
Comment on this post with positive or negative feedback. I can take critique.

I dedicate this article to Bogdan M. who first talked me about chain letters some 10 years ago.