By the time you are reading this, you have probably already received 10 or more emails advertising a product or service that you really don't need, or maybe you do, but just don't want to be hounded by some faceless company to buy from them. So how do we distinguish email marketing from unsolicited and unwanted email popularly known as SPAM?
Over the years, more and more companies have taken up email marketing as an effective way of selling their products or services. The advent of technology has fueled the growth of this tool as more and more people get access to the internet, and utilize email to communicate. This has eventually grayed out the line that divides the two.
While browsing a website, you will often see a tiny checkbox at the bottom that says "I would like to receive your newsletter" or something to that effect. This automatically adds your email address to the websites' mailing list, and what follows is a barrage of emails. Now, this is fine because you opted into their mailing list and actually requested emails advertising specials and so on.
Gradually, those checkboxes have multiplied and now there is an additional one that says "would you like to receive emails from our partners?" This is still fine, because it is within the boundaries of online marketing. Where it now begins to cross the line is when all of a sudden, Company X whom you have never heard of, nor have any interest in their products, begins bombarding you with emails which slowly fill up your inbox.
Soon, while you are using Microsoft outlook or some other mail program is that your taskbar would read something like "receiving mail 21 of 283". So you sit there thinking today is going to be a busy day spent attending to these emails, only to discover that 80% of them are your usual spammers. My list so far of common spam includes companies selling VIAGRA or some other medical product (I am not even in my mid 30s yet, why would I need VIAGRA?), lottery winnings, MBA's, some of our African brothers telling you about some money left by a dead uncle and more recently 'emails from my bank' telling me to update my login details.
The million dollar question "how did these people get my email address?"
The victim here is predominantly the hapless subscriber who only opted into one mailing list but ends up on 10 others, who all send him email after email on marketing material that the user does not need. This crosses the frontier into the realm of SPAM and it is illegal. Company A is not allowed to share its mailing list information like your email and/or contact information with Company B without your permission.
In spite of this, there is unfortunately not much one can do save to mark an email as 'spam' or junk or try and unsubscribe from the mailing list (which has become such a painstaking exercise). My advice to users: always look out for that checkbox at the bottom of the page asking whether you would like to subscribe to a mailing list(s). You have a choice.
The other popular way in which spammers get your email address is the conventional email forwarding. Unfortunately we all fall prey to this and unwittingly add our email address to a long list of emails that leaves the spammer smiling. I know I am going to hit a few raw nerves with this one, but it has been proven that spammers have refined their methods of getting your email address and even resorted to playing on your emotions to get you to forward an email to your entire address book with a copy to them. This is quite common where the email claims that there is a free gadget up for grabs and by you copying back to the source, they will register you to be in line to win it.
This is how spammers get your email address. By preying on your emotions and knowing that if they send you an email with religious sentiments or telling you that something good will happen to you if you forward it, you will think it is legit. It is all spam, well at least 99% of it. So next time, before you hit that 'Forward' button, take a second to think about it. I mean "I tried this yesterday and I couldn't believe it, it worked! Send this email to 15 people and something absolutely fantastic will happen to you at 12:00". Seriously?