[No Spam!]
How Do I Stop Unwanted Junk Email?!

(Beating the Spammers at Their Own Game)


Al Wong

August 5, 1997 Update!

Since I wrote this article, spammers have gotten smarter disguising their return email address so that it is not obvious. See the end of this article for my update.


A Definition

Spamming is defined to mean sending many identical email messages (usually advertisements but not always) to people who did not request or want these messages in the first place. These messages are considered junk email since they do not benefit the recipient but only the sender. The number of these junk email messages can be in the hundreds of thousands and even millions. Needless to say, spamming is considered extremely rude by people who inhabit the Net.

The Situation

I've been put on someone's mailing list and I'm receiving junk email from everyone and his brother. I tried to follow the instructions from their email server to remove me but I still keep getting these unwanted junk email. I want this to stop.

How can I stop receiving junk email?

I have been asked this question many times. This problem has really bloomed, especially this year (1996). There exists several software programs that will scan through a group of email messages (gotten from an archive or bulletin board for example) and strip away the email addresses creating a mailing list that any idiot can use for spamming. These programs are for sale where anyone can buy them and use them on any email database without constraints. On the Net, there is no central clearinghouse where you can remove your email address from all lists. If you send email, if you participate in any Usenet group or mailing list, if you subscribe to a special interest mailing list, you will eventually be receiving junk email.

Spamming doesn't work. Newbie advertisers, knowing nothing about Net culture, think they can do an "in your face" advertising campaign with impunity. Little do they know the Net works both ways.

I recently started teaching classes for Internet beginners and inevitably this question of unwanted junk email gets asked. I tell my class to do the following below. I have been doing this procedure for years and have found it to be very effective. However, it is most effective if everyone does this too. I discovered a lot of this on my own and find it peculiar no one else has written a similar article. I am writing this procedure mainly for newbies who think they are helpless to stop unwanted junk email.

The Procedure: Sending Your Complaint Effectively

  1. Determining Who Sent the Message

    You can determine who sent you the junk email. Look at the From: line in the email header, the block of lines that occurs first in any email message. The sender's email address directly follows the From: line.

    For example, suppose the email header says From: loser@computer.com. This means loser@computer.com has sent you the unwanted junk email. It can be anyone in which case replace loser@computer.com with the actual email address from the From: line. Note the loser's machine name is computer.com and it always follows immediately after the @ sign.

  2. Contact the People in Charge

    To stop future mailings from loser, you must contact the people responsible for the machine where the email originated from. Send a complaint message to each person listed here:

      (Send a copy to yourself here too)

    Who Are These People?

    • root is the system administrator, the guy in charge of the machine, computer.com. He maintains everything on the machine. He's usually very busy and doesn't like to be bothered. Bother him anyway.

    • postmaster is responsible for the email on the same machine. He makes sure email can be sent and received from the machine. If his machine gets overwhelmed with lots of complaints, he will notice.

      Both of these people need to be informed if something wrong is happening on their machine. It's good to send to both people as one person or the other may actually be responsible for the email coming from their machine and insures someone will read your complaint. Note there will always be a root or a postmaster account on a given machine but not necessarily both.

    • Sending your complaint to loser is "a courtesy". If everyone did this, loser will enjoy getting his mailbox filled with hundreds of thousands of complaints. His mailbox would be shutdown long before this. And that's the point.

  3. Pay Attention to the Subject

    The Subject: line of your message should have SPAM somewhere in it. I like to put SPAM in the beginning the the Subject: line and leave the rest of the Subject: line unchanged.

    The people in charge of a given machine receive lots of email during the day. The word SPAM on the subject line is immediately recognizable when scanning through a bunch of email messages and you should get a faster response.

  4. What to Say in the Complaint

    Your message should say something like (and yes, you may copy this verbatim):
    One of your users, loser@computer.com, has sent me the message below.
    I did not request this information.  Receiving junk email is a waste of 
    both our time and our system resources. Please inform your user, messages
    like  this are ENTIRELY UNWELCOMED at this site. There are other groups
    on the Net made specifically for these types of messages.
    This message is also being sent to all obvious account aliases.
    < Include entire text of the junk email here. >
    Of course, you would replace loser@computer.com with the actual email address of the sender (the person who sent you the junk mail).

    Be sure to include the entire text of the junk email at the end of your message. This is important! This serves at least two purposes. It lends creditability to your complaint as you have sent the evidence. It also lets root and postmaster know how annoying it is to receive a +100 line junk message.

    A sure way to include the junk email is to write it out to a file. Then, while you are editing your complaint message, just include the junk email file at the bottom using your editor. Different editors vary with their commands so find out how to do an include file.

    Do not attach the junk email message. Attachments tend to get encrypted before they're sent and you cannot assume root or postmaster will have the necessary software to decrypt your attachment. These are very busy people. Make sure your complaint message is all plain text.

    Note: Keep your complaint message businesslike and courteous. The people in charge are very busy and probably don't realize loser is spamming (sending junk email) from their machine. They are innocent so don't vent your frustrations upon them.

  5. Be Consistent

    That's it! BUT you must be consistent in sending a similar complaint message every time you receive junk email. If everyone did this, junk email would be much reduced or disappear altogether. You will get almost immediate action as root doesn't like to be bothered and postmaster is the email watchdog. Imagine them getting a million email complaints within hours.

    The Finer Points

    1. Mail Yourself a Copy of Your Complaint

      It is a good idea to send a copy of your complaint message to yourself for your own records. Also you might need to send this complaint again to someone else. Just add your email address to the bottom of your sending list (the To: line).

    2. Multiple Machine Names

      Sometimes you'll get a message from loser@AAA.BBB.com. AAA and BBB are separate machines. Machine AAA links to machine BBB. And machine BBB links to the Net. Send complaint messages to:


      This will insure root and postmaster (and loser!) will receive your complaint.

    3. Apparently From

      Some email messages have an Apparently from: AnotherLoser@AnotherComputer.com in the email header. It may also read Authenticated user: AnotherLoser@AnotherComputer.com in the email header. This means the junk email was originally sent from another computer than stated in the From: line. So additionally, send complaint messages to:


      as well as


      Read the email header and use your judgment.

    4. No Machine Name

      Sometimes you'll also see something like From: loser@[] in the email header where 123 can be any two or three digit number. This is a valid email address. Send your complaint to root and postmaster like so:


    5. The AOL Exception

      The problem is so bad on America OnLine (AOL) that they have setup very special accounts to handle junk email complaints. I understand they ignore all complaints sent to root and postmaster. So send your complaints to the accounts below. This is only for AOL:


    6. Get Their Physical Mailing Address and Phone Number

      If the junk email contains a USPS address, you can try reporting them to the US Postmaster too. I don't know about countries outside the US but one can always look into it. If the junk email has an 800 number or a phone number that's local to you...Well, you can figure this out. If you are really angry, check out their web site (if available) and obtain contact information from there.

    7. Forget Their Email Server

      Don't try messing with the email server of the junk email offender. You will probably discover the remove-me-from-your-mailing-list command doesn't work. More than likely, the email server will add your name again to it's mailing list and you will end up receiving duplicate junk email messages. I suspect most losers don't know how to set up an email server properly. Any idiot can spam the Net though.

    The Consequences

    You will probably get a nice email message back from someone in charge who will tell you the loser's account has been closed, the loser has been warned, they are looking into it, very sorry, etc. Complaints that bounce back from the loser's account is evidence that his mailbox is full or his account is closed due to other people sending email complaints just like you.

    Many losers have had their account closed literally within hours of the spam. Their reputations tarnished forever on the Net. These are the lucky ones. Others have had their phone numbers and fax machines tied up for days. Threats, sabotage, early morning phone calls, etc. are not unheard of in the most flagrant situations. Advertising on the Net is a double edged sword if you don't know what you are doing.

    On some computers (like Netcom), the problem is so bad that the people in charge have set up another account called abuse where people can send in their complaints. You may get back an automated message describing this. Send a copy of your message to abuse too but I would first send to root and postmaster. I feel the people in charge should be prodded to take better steps to avoid this problem rather than shift it to another account.


    So you see, you are not totally helpless. The trick is to be consistent in your complaints. Send a complaint as soon as you receive the junk email. Never let one junk email message go unchallenged. If everyone did this, junk email would be much reduced or disappear altogether.

    Let the ignorant advertisers know the Net works both ways. It is a thing of great beauty not to be cheapened by rude, unwanted junk email.

    August 5, 1997 Update

    Since I wrote this article, spammers have gotten smarter disguising their return email address so that it is not obvious. The best one can do now is determine what machine originated the spam and contact the people in charge of the machine.

    I include links to other sites which explain this procedure at the end of this update. I also include links and descriptions of tools to help you determine the email addresses of the people in charge.

    There are also using new tactics to defend against spam including spam chaff, software that generates automatic complaints, exposure of personal information of spammers and email filters.

    I don't care much for email filters because:

    1. Filters do not block spam. Thinking filters block anything is a fallacy. There would be justice if spam bounced from your emailbox back to the spammer. But this doesn't happen. Filters merely reroute suspected spam to another file which you eventually have to deal with anyway because...

    2. Filters are not 100% Conceivably there might be email messages being filtered that you want, say from family or friends. So you have to sort through spam to get a message you want. And maybe it's there and maybe not.

    3. So by using filters, you are being inconvenienced twice. 1) determining how to set up the filter and 2) going through the spam anyway to determine if there's a message you want to keep. For me, I take the spam as it comes. Besides...

    4. It gives me pleasure to help shutdown a spammer. It annoys me that any spammer has the gall to fill my email box as if it's HIS RIGHT and then he gets angry if I complain! Well buddy boy, sending email works both ways. If you can send email to me then IT'S MY RIGHT to send email to you.

      By the way, I also enjoy answering my own phone and dealing with telemarketers. But that's another article. :)

    5. Spammers are cowardly scum of the Net. They claim spamming works and they have a right to send email. If this is so, then WHY ARE THEY DISGUISING THEIR EMAIL ADDRESSES? Is it possible they know they are not doing business in an acceptable (and probably illegal) manner? Do they know they are literally robbing resources from thousands of machines in communication bandwidth and disk space for their own selfish motives? Do you think they worry about the time they are stealing from literally hundreds of thousands of people, including you? It all adds up. Is it possible they fear the backfire of their spamming? You bet!

    I want my foot to the metal and my hair in the wind! We don't need no stinkin' filters!

    Anti-Spam Links

    Rather than reinvent the wheel, here are some great anti-spam links that I recommend:

    • Stop Junk Email This is one of the first web sites I found against spam and I think it's a classic. There are articles galore on how to fight junk email including how to determine the machine name of the originating spam. The site appears to be updated fairly often too. Just surf around.

    • Anti-Spam Zone Great articles. Read Poison the Well and Personal Info on Wallace Sanford, an exposure of the biggest spam turkey of them all.

    • Article on Cyber Promotions Know thy enemy.

    • Links - Junk Email and Net Abuse All kinds of links to various anti-spam articles.

    • Yahoo! - Junk Email Category Even Yahoo! has a separate category for junk email links! Especially check out the subcategory on Bot Bait. This is also known as Spam Chaff, Spam Bait, etc. As a passive defense, try this tactic with your web pages. Confuse the spammer's email grabber.

    • Spam Tools Mailing List Mailing list about tools to deal with spam.

    Useful Tools

    These tools will help you identify the owners of a given machine name. You need to contact the people in charge to stop the spam.
    • InterNIC Whois Once you have determined the machine name to send a complaint (for example, spamorama.com) enter the machine name in the web form and Voila! InterNIC Whois will return all sorts of information about the machine. Including where the machine is located, names, phone numbers and the email address(es) of the people in charge of the machine! Have fun! (Note: Some of you with MS-Windows machines probably already have a Whois program that came with the software package from your ISP.)

    • nslookup (Unix shell accounts only) Sometimes, an IP address (for example, 123.456.78.3) will be in the mail header instead of a machine name. The program, nslookup, will translate the IP address to its machine name! Now you can use InterNIC Whois (above) to find the names and email addresses of the people in charge of the machine.

My Writings

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Last updated : April 30, 2001
Copyright 1996-1997 Al Wong, Los Angeles, California, USA