Experts estimate that around 90% of all e-mail is spam, with some placing the figure even higher. Now consider that statistics, extrapolations and research by the Radicati Group estimate the number of emails sent per day (in 2010) to be close to 300 billion. If that much of these millions and trillions of message are indeed spam and viruses, this means that more than 3 million spam e-mails were sent EVERY SECOND of the day – and that was two years ago, before smartphone and tablet PC usage became meteoric. Needless to say, learning how to stop spam, phishing and unwanted emails is becoming an increasingly vital topic.
But first, a bit of background info: The goal of spammers is to get their unsolicited messages in front of as many people as possible, increasing the chances that some of them will click contained links and expose their personal information, make junk purchases or fall for whatever other scam they’re pushing. And just as companies such as McAfee and Norton work to stop it, so too are spammers working hard to create new ways to circumvent any spam filters or other restrictions. On the bright side, a growing number of e-mail programs such as Yahoo! and Gmail are doing an increasingly good job of filtering out a lot of junk e-mail automatically.
Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, AOL and Facebook further recently announced that, despite the fact they are corporate rivals, they’re uniting to fight spam and phishing. Working together with major companies like Bank of America and PayPal the e-mail providers announced the formation of a technical working group called Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC). The idea is that these e-mail providers will work with major companies on the back-end to make sure that any e-mail that says it’s from them really is. However, for those hoping to keep their inboxes free of junk in the interim, here’s how to give spam the cold shoulder.
10 tips to help identify, control and stop spam and unwanted email
- When you first set up an e-mail account, protect it and use it only very selectively. Although companies promise not to give out e-mail addresses to others, it’s amazing to see the amount of spam an e-mail address can generate once spammers know it’s active.
- Don’t post your e-mail address in its normal form on a publicly accessible Web page. Instead, post something along the lines of jane (at) doe DOT com.
- Luckily, most major e-mail programs offer a great level of basic spam protection, so use a reputable online mail program for your workplace or home which should be able to catch most of the unwanted e-mail.
- Be aware also that spam exists outside of e-mail as well. Whether in the form of direct messages on Twitter or likejacked stories on Facebook, users need to be on guard when using social networks, as well. If something seems fishy or weird – don’t click it!
- Resist the urge to attempt to “unsubscribe” to spam. Replying to messages will often do nothing more than confirm that your e-mail address works for the sender, leading to more spam. Instead, remember to use (and teach kids to employ) the “Report” or “Mark as Spam” button from their e-mail program.
- Remember that you should be leery of any e-mail or other communication received from someone that you don’t know. If you don’t know who an email’s from, don’t click it!
- Check the To: and From: fields in an e-mail if you think it might be Spam. If there are other addresses on the To: line, it’s likely spam. Additionally, e-mails sent from addresses that contain large strings of numbers in them may be a good indicator that spam is present.
- Hover over links to make sure their destination leads where it says it does. And just because links match doesn’t mean to click on them – or that you can verify if it’s a legitimate site by doing so. If you have questions, instead of clicking the link, input the URL into Google and see what comes up, and – if supposedly contacted by a business or service provider – surf on your on to its official website (don’t click on the contained link!) and contact representatives using the number on actual corporate HQs.
- If friends’ e-mail addresses are suddenly sending you spam, make sure to contact your friend via a different method and let them know their account has been compromised. This seems to especially happen with Hotmail users, and often simply changing the password puts an end to the unwanted e-mailing.
- To help the Federal Trade Commission control spam, forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s a fundamental paradox for small business owners: How do you expand your revenues, grow market share and maintain optimum production and service levels without disrupting cash flow or sending operations into a tailspin? Thankfully, even for the most time-, money- or manpower-deprived entrepreneur, a wealth of apps, gadgets and online solutions exists that can help you broaden your reach without biting off more than you can chew. Looking to give your business a sudden boost of upward momentum? Try the following five high-tech tools and services, all of which could potentially prove vital resources in your ongoing fight to score more customers and send profits soaring.
1. Build an Online Presence – Need a professional-looking website, but don’t have the time, cash or technical know-how to get started? Try Onepager, which makes it possible for beginners to establish an attractive online presence in no time flat. Using the site, business owners simply type their company name, tagline and body text into a number of preexisting templates, to which photos and visual styling can be added. A point-and-click interface further makes it easy to introduce newsletter signups, service rundowns, social media links and contact information. Once complete, the site helps you register a domain name, monitor customer behavior and otherwise enjoy the benefits of marketing to the online world. Providers like Intuit and 1&1 also offer easy off-the-shelf solutions.
2. Secure Venture Capital – Have the perfect idea for a new electronic gadget or restaurant chain, but lack the funds to quit your day job, let alone mass-produce consumer products? Do what today’s smartest entrepreneurs do: Beg strangers for spare change. Crowdsourced funding sites such as Kickstarter, RocketHub and IndieGogo let you post details of your dream projects, complete with colorful descriptions, photos and videos, then source pledges from the general public. Rather than equity, investors typically receive personalized or product-based incentives for their kindness (e.g., a $5 donation nets a copy of the movie you helped fund’s DVD, while $500 scores a personal thank you call from the director). Group seed capital programs such as Grow VC and fundraising platforms like Crowdrise may also prove a handy alternative to romancing fickle angel investors or handing over 30% of your company for minimal return.
3. Start Taking Credit Card Payments – From everyday consumers to major corporations, many customers prefer to pay via credit card. Letting them do so on-demand using a solution like Square, which lets you connect a plastic card reader accessory to your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch or Android mobile device isn’t just simple and convenient. It also makes good business sense, allowing you to instantly swipe their American Express, Visa, MasterCard and Discover and secure down payments, project milestones and up-front advances on the spot. Charging a single 2.75% flat fee on each transaction, and letting you setup custom inventories of items with personalized photos, names and prices, it can streamline and simplify billing for businesses of all sizes.
4. Land Free Publicity – Every entrepreneur dreams of making headlines or enjoying time in the spotlight. Help a Reporter Out (HARO) offers the opportunity to do so in seconds – and without spending a single dime on marketing or advertisement. A matchmaking service that pairs journalists with subject matter experts, simply submit your name and email to receive a daily newsletter from members of the media who need commenting sources. Think you’re the perfect fit to field calls for a professional organizer or whiz in the field of cloud computing? Just respond to the queries that show up in your Inbox, and you could find yourself quoted everywhere from CNN to The New York Times.
5. Create a Custom Virtual Store – The most direct way to put e-commerce to work: Add an attractive online storefront capable of effortlessly handling myriad payment solutions that’s chock-full of must-have goods. Multiple options from Goodsie to Shopify, Volusion and BigCommerce can help, making it possible to set up both basic solutions that require minimal to no programming, and more complex and sophisticated virtual bazaars. Note that while it’s tempting to go big on features and selection here, the first-time builder is advised to keep things simple. Start by staying focused on practicality, convenience and popular high-margin goods, then expand organically, rather than risking overcomplicating your user interface or overwhelming shoppers with frivolous alternatives.
Small Business Expert
Essential hints, tips & business advice for startups & entrepreneurs.
Want to increase your small business’ sales, expand market share and boost your year-end profits? Consider doubling down on custom marketing programs and online solutions. Thanks to the magic of high-tech, from unique value-adds to creative contests, giveaways and online deals, a variety of novel campaigns can quickly be assembled to match any budget. Looking to give your enterprise the gift of record growth? The following expert online marketing guide – complete with hints, tips and strategies for entrepreneurs, startups and local neighborhood stores – can help you bolster your balance sheet without breaking the bank.
Social and Affiliate Programs – Given word of mouth’s growing influence on today’s household purchasing decisions, it pays to turn fans of your business into evangelists. The best way to recruit them: Incentivize conversation by providing eye-catching offers and savings, and compensate those that generate direct leads with exclusive discounts, gifts and cash rewards. Using software tools such as those offered by providers like Extole, DirectTrack and ReferralCandy, you can create customized referral programs for almost any industry. (Refer a pal, get $20! Click here to send Facebook friends a code for 60% off!) Distributable via social networks, widgets, apps and email, white-label solutions not only offer wide flexibility across devices, platforms and promotions. They also make it easy to track ads from click to purchase, and conscript an army of credible sales associates working on a strictly commission basis.
Mobile and Location-Based Marketing – Over 420 million smartphones were expected to sell in 2011 alone according to IMS Research, many containing built-in GPS devices that actively monitor users’ locations. Letting you speak to customers at the right time and place when they’re in a shopping mood, mobile and location-based marketing services like Geotoko, Placecast and Xtify can potentially help close more deals. Providing users with discounts, giveaways and specials via text message, pop-up alert or email, you can also integrate marketing with services like Foursquare and GoWalla to tie campaigns to specific stores or locations. From unique apps that send notifications even when closed to search engines that serve up special offers based on zip code, choices continue to grow. Letting you reach customers right when they’re weighing their options, location-based services can help you steal a sale right out from under a competitor’s feet.
QR Codes – Another handy feature many smartphones and tablets with built-in cameras such as the iPhone and iPad enjoy: The ability to scan Quick Response (QR) codes. These high-tech symbols, which operate similar to retail barcodes, can beam over instant savings or provide access to useful online information. Add them to signs, print ads, business cards and brochures, and customers can quickly access coupons, download menus on-demand or even see how low your prices compare to rivals’. Simple bonuses they offer might include providing free seasonal recipes to go with every dining set, complementary festive music downloads for that new stereo or videos showing products you’re selling in action. Letting you offer everything from suggestions on complementary accessories to go with that scarf to driving directions, potential applications are endless. Just be sure each offers customers meaningful rewards and tie a call-to-action to programs (take our survey to win a beach vacation!) to maximize performance.
Discounts and Deals – With value still paramount for millions of households, many entrepreneurs are increasingly coupling door-busting offers with regular distribution through daily deal services. Providers like Groupon, Living Social, Amazon Local and Google Offers can potentially put savings in front of millions for a slice of each purchase. Letting customers register to receive arresting bargains on spas, restaurants, movie theaters and more via email, all offer opportunities to help marketing programs connect with households trying to stretch every dollar. You can even set minimum purchase quantities required before discounts activate. Likewise, savvy marketers are also leveraging bargain-hunting services like FatWallet, RetailMeNot and DealsPl.us to reach today’s most price-sensitive buyers. Providing discount coupon codes, printable vouchers and unique presents for gift shoppers themselves (free holiday sampler with purchase) can help entice cost-conscious customers back into the fold.
Custom Content and Publications – Resourceful entrepreneurs can also give shoppers the gift of more precious moments to spend with friends and family by providing time-saving hints and advice. Email marketing services ConstantContact, iContact and MadMimi let you send custom digital newsletters (and even expert online marketing guides – how meta!) straight to shoppers’ inboxes for a fraction of the cost of print mailers, and enable content sharing through social networks. Popular service MailChimp even allows gorgeous, customized mailings to be sent free in small quantities, while upgrades allow you to track viewers’ social media profiles and send targeted emails via Facebook, Twitter, Flickr or LinkedIn. Couple with links to bargains, storefronts and online videos (free to upload and host on providers like YouTube, Vimeo and Metacafe, then embed on your own site) to enhance SEO and user engagement. Beyond highlighting your expertise, all can enhance your reach, keep holiday bargains top of mind and help alleviate shoppers’ stress while building brand awareness.