E-mail user finds mailbox full of junk

Illustration by Bo Brown


Dear Benny,
Every day, my e-mail inbox fills with hundreds of messages offering to sell me something, or eliminate my debt, or sign me up for some pyramid scheme. Is there anything I can do to stop these messages?
— Return to Sender

Dear Undeliverable,
Oh, dear. Like many other e-mail users on campus, you have become a victim of spam.

“Spam” is slang for unsolicited e-mail. The term comes from the famous canned meat, but the stuff it describes is of less reputable origin.

Unfortunately, there is no foolproof way to rid yourself of spam. The method that looks like it should be the simplest—clicking on those “remove” links in the messages you get—is all too often the surest way to get even more spam, as the spammer then knows it has a working e-mail address.

You could set up filters to automatically delete messages from certain senders or containing certain text in your e-mail program, but these are not foolproof either, as spammers continually alter text or addresses so their messages get through.

Some companies sell spam-blocking software, and some e-mail programs, like Apple’s Mail for Mac OS X, have built-in features designed to filter out unwanted messages. Our Information Systems and Computing staff neither recommend nor support any of these products, but there is a project underway to evaluate some of them. You can find out about it at www.upenn.edu/computing/eval/2003/spamfilter on the Web.

The Computing web site (www.upenn.edu/computing/security/advisories/spam.html) has more tips on dealing with spam.

Dear Benny,
How many people visit Penn’s museums each year?
— Culture Maven

Dear Museum-goer,
Our museum public information officers say that about 175,000 people visit the University of Pennsylvania Museum, about 25,000 visit the Institute of Contemporary Art, and about 15,000 visit the Arthur Ross Gallery each year.

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Originally published on May 1, 2003