Our lives are filled with spam. It has many names and comes in many forms, from email to snail mail to text messages and more. With the help of technology, as well as some clever thinking, it's not too difficult to filter out all the unwanted crap in your life. Here's how to do it.
Title image remixed from an original by Yarchyk (Shutterstuck).
This guide covers all sorts of services that are subject to spam in some fashion. You can read the whole guide, or you can just click on the topic you want from the list below to skip to that section.
For Australian mobile users, unwanted calls are relatively rare. Because callers have to pay relatively high rates to call a mobile number, the vast majority of annoying telemarketers simply don't bother.
Unfortunately, the same isn't true of landlines. If you're regularly plagued with telemarketing calls, the first option you should pursue is signing up to the Do Not Call list, which should take you off many unwanted lists. Registrations are valid for five years; when you sign up, make a note in your preferred calendar app to ensure you renew at the appropriate time.
Do Not Call isn't perfect; it won't block political parties, charities, businesses you have an existing relationship with, or dodgy foreign companies who "robo-call" numbers without knowing who is on the other end. Under those circumstances, hanging up remains the fastest solution. However, if someone calls before 9am or after 8pm on weekdays, after 5pm on Saturdays or at any time on a Sunday, you can point out that they're actually breaking the law.
There are plenty of reasons you might end up with unwanted text messages, whether you've got a creepy stalker or some advertising service got hold of your number. Nowadays, text message scams are especially popular and you may receive a handful of those as well. Whatever type of spam you're getting, the blocking methods are the same.
Use an App
Android users have quite a few options to block unwanted texters. Handcent SMS and BlackList are two free filters which are worth trying out if you feel bombarded. iPhone users can check out iBlackList (assuming they've jailbroken their device).
Email spam is a much smaller problem that it used to be, now that most email services have pretty smart algorithms that filter out most of the crap for you. But there's the email known as bacn, which encompasses things like newsletters because they aren't quite spam and yet you still probably don't want them. Additionally, you may want to focus on some email more than others, and even features like Google's Priority Inbox won't always do the job. Here's what will.
Create A Whitelist Filter
If your email service or app provides filtering options, you should consider making a whitelist that sorts your email by priority. All you need to do is create a filter that is designed to ignore important messages and leave them in the inbox, but move everything else into a secondary folder (or label, if you're a Gmail user). This way only email senders you've designated as important will show up in your inbox and you can check the secondary folder when you have a bit more time. Whitelists have the disadvantage of being too strict, but since you'll be checking both your primary and now secondary inbox you won't have to worry too much about that. The filter isn't set in stone, either, so you'll be able to update it as needed until it's working for you.
Get Rid Of Newsletters And Ads You Don't Want
Sometimes you sign up for newsletters unintentionally and you find yourself stuck with a bunch of mail you don't want to read. You can get rid of it quickly by doing a quick search for the word "unsubscribe" and creating a filter that automatically deletes emails with that word in it. Of course, that system is imperfect because it's possible — however unlikely — that it will catch a message that's not a newsletter. Alternatively, you can use a service like Unroll.me that's designed to find all the newsletters in your inbox and help you easily unsubscribe without hassle. (Note: This service only works with popular online email providers, not any IMAP inbox.)
For more email tips, check out this post.
The majority of the mail you receive in the real world probably consists of catalogues and other advertisements you don't really care about. It's not only annoying, but completely wasteful.
Post A No Junk Mail Sign
Hit your local supermarket or hardware store and get a 'No Junk Mail' sign for your mailbox. This won't work for absolutely everything — I find local real estate agents and restaurants are the worst offenders — but it will get rid of the bulkier catalogues and other unaddressed items.
Sign Up For ADMA's Do Not Mail List
If you get unwanted junk mail that's actually addressed to you, sign up for the Do Not Mail list. Like the Do Not Call list, this isn't a perfect solution — it won't block political mailings or material from companies where you are actually a customer — but it can help.
Get Rid Of Phonebooks
If you want to stop your phone book delivery, sign up for the Directory Select service. Note that the cancellation only applies for three years, so again you might want to make a diary note to avoid an unwanted resumption down the track.
The more popular social media becomes, the more it becomes a target for spam. Twitter and Facebook are two popular targets. Here's how to stop unwanted communication on both.
Facebook is actually very good at filtering spam if you're using it the way Zuckerberg intended. If you only friend people you know, your primary Facebook inbox will only contain messages from those people. Any other messages will end up in a secondary inbox. In general, this system works very well but if you can't seem to get rid of a problem "friend" on Facebook you can just block them. You begin by visiting your Privacy Settings page. From there, choose the type of blocking you want. You can add a friend to your Restricted list, which will only allow them to see public updates. (It'll be like they've subscribed to you but aren't really friends with you.) You can also block a user using their name or email address. Additionally, you can block event and app invites if you don't want them. Just fill in the required information for whatever type of blocking you need and you'll be all set.
Twitter doesn't do much to preemptively dispatch spam messages, but you can do a few things to lower your chances of becoming a target and definitely block unwanted senders should they come along. The Social Media Examiner suggests opting out of Twitter promotional services. SocialOomph is a popular one, and you can opt out of their messages by following @optmeout, waiting for @optmeout to automatically follow you back, sending @optmeout a direct message, and then unfollowing @optmeout. Additionally, you can use spam-blocking services to seek out Twitter spammers and remove them. StopTweet only requires a quick sign-in to Twitter, a few choices, and it'll remove any spammers it finds that are following you. If you do end up with Twitter spam that opting our or spam-scanning doesn't catch, it's very easy to block the sender manually. Just visit their Twitter page, click the menu with the silhouette of a person, and choose "Block _____." (See the image to the right for an example.)
It feels cynical to admit to feeling this way, but let's be honest: Sometimes your fellow human beings are the source of unwanted solicitation in real life. You have the power to simply ignore anyone you want — say that person on the street who's handing out "personality tests" that are in reality screening tools for potential candidates in their sleazy cult — but it's not always easy. If you regularly walk through an area filled with charity collectors, something as simple as a pair of headphones can do wonders separating you from the onslaught of IRL spam (and who doesn't love music on a walk?).
Human de-spamming is less a matter of removing the spam — you can't, thankfully, click a button to get rid of another human being — and more a matter of handling, ignoring, or avoiding. Music can go a long way, but if you've got a strong enough constitution to just ignore the person waiving a flyer in your face, that certainly works, as well. Feel free to share what's worked best for your human de-spamming, along with what's worked or hasn't in other spam-filled areas in your life, in the comments.