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Should I hit "remove"?

A lot of the spam that we get and that people write to us about comes with instructions on how to "remove yourself from our list". Yet, more often than not, the remove instructions don't work. Why is this?

Basically, you've just experienced what many call "rule #1": Spammers lie.

Remove lists don't work. Even the United States government has noticed this: "We are also working on (spam) cases that involve claims that you can opt out, when in fact what clicking on the link to unsubscribe will do is simply verify that you have a valid e-mail address, so that you can then get lots of spam instead of a little," said Howard Beales, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. In this story, Computerworld of New Zealand documents an experiment in which they demonstrate that remove lists really don't work.

Don't waste your time trying to jump through the spammers' hoops. Plenty of people have documented the fact that not only do remove lists not work, they do exactly what Mr. Beales says: they verify to the spammer that your e-mail address is good, and so then they put it on the premium CD and sell it to the next spammer for even more money.

In one case, an anti-spammer went to a remove-list web site and noticed that he'd been removed from the list, supposedly, even though he hadn't given them his address. So, he went into debugging mode, using telnet to access the raw HTML of the server directly, and discovered that it just gave you the same answer no matter what. In other words, the whole thing was a complete and utter fraud. Some spammers put more effort into their fakery, but in the end it comes down to the same thing: it does you no good to follow the removal instructions.

Scott Hazen Mueller / E-mail me