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How Forwarding Emails can Increase Spam

A hidden, but non-trivial side effect of forwarding emails is that your email address is likely to be forwarded along with it and will probably end up in a large number of email in-boxes in diverse regions of the planet. Once the forwarded email begins its journey from your computer, to the Rest Of The World, you have absolutely no control over how many times the email gets forwarded and, of course, how many times your private email address gets forwarded right along with it. Your email address is likely to end up, not only in the private in-boxes of complete strangers, but also on mailing lists, news groups, online forums and the hard copy someone printed off to show Great Uncle Vinny. Sooner or later, it is possible, even probable, that your email address will cross the in-box of your friendly neighbourhood spammer. Spammers must love emails that have been forwarded a number of times. For them, the dozens of valid addresses that such emails have collected upon their journey through cyberspace must seem an enticing bonus. This is certainly not the only way that spammers get hold of email addresses, but I do believe that it is a significant factor.

So, what can you do to minimize the risk of being added to a spammers list via this method?

Well, as a courtesy, you can make sure to remove any existing email addresses from the headers before forwarding the email. However, this will not stop your email address from escaping into the wilds of cyberspace.

You could include a polite note at the top of the email asking that recipients "Help Stop Spam: Please remove email addresses before forwarding". This could be effective, as it would perhaps help to remind and educate people about the issue. Especially if your little reminder stayed intact and legible for subsequent forwardings. On the other hand, you couldn't be sure that people would actually carry out this request.

The method I favor takes a little more time than simply clicking the "Forward" button but is probably the most effective. If I'm sending on an email that I suspect will "keep on keeping on", I copy the body of the email, paste it to a new email and send it using a throw-away "secondary" account. If I'm sending it to multiple recipients, I use the Blind Carbon Copy facility of my email client to further protect their privacy.

The links below lead to other articles and tutorials about protecting the privacy of your email recipients:

Using Blind Carbon Copy (BCC) in Outlook Express
Email Security Tip - Forward Responsibly
How to Remove Previous Email Addresses in Email Forwards
A More Elegant Approach to Blind Carbon Copying

Article by Brett M. Christensen