I receive a lot of questions about managing e-mail and how to prevent spam.  While there is no perfect system, you can manage your e-mail messages and still get everything you need to do done.

Guard your e-mail address. Be careful when and how you use your primary address.  For instance, prior to joining any e-mail lists or signing up on any website, review the privacy policy to ensure that they do not sell e-mail addresses.  You should also ensure that if the address is posted online it is not in plain text.  Spammers routinely use utilities to scan websites for plain text e-mail address to add to their lists.

Do not open, reply to, or Click on Links in Spam or Unwanted Messages. Many marketing messages, even those from reputable companies, contain hidden elements that track the effectiveness of their messages.  They can tell how many times you open a message, what links you clicked on within the message, and when you want to unsubscribe from their mailings. Spammers use these elements to their advantage, determining whether the e-mail addresses is “alive.”

Use Multiple E-Mail Addresses for a variety of purposes.  For instance you should have a primary e-mail address that you give out to friends and family, another for e-mail lists, another for online shopping, and others for specialized tasks.  Lynn Gaunt, Coordinator of Admissions Programs at Finlandia University in Hancock, Michigan states “[b]efore you start investigating colleges & universities, set up an email account for college communication. This allows you to focus on all of your college messages at one time, in one place—when you are ready.”  You can apply this advice for job hunting (to have a more professional sounding e-mail address), relocation, or specialized events.

Use a Complicated Username to fool spammers. Many spammers use a list of easily guessable words, then blast e-mail addresses to an entire domain.  While this may seem horribly inefficient, they eventually will find “live” e-mail addresses.  The e-mail might be a pain to use, but you can creatively use letters and numbers to come up with a hard to guess e-mail address.

Use a spam filter with your e-mail accounts.  GMail, Hotmail, and Yahoo all provide spam filtering as do ISPs such as Comcast, RoadRunner, and FIOS.  If you host your own domain, consider using SpamAssassin or a service like Google’s Postini.  Many of these filters can learn what messages you would like to receive and become more accurate over time.

These are some of the things I do to manage my e-mail and spam.  Consider using these tips to come up with a strategy that works for you.