No Such Addressee

By Neil J. Rubenking  |  Posted 2003-10-28 Print this article Print

We explain why spam that's apparently not addressed to you still arrives in your in-box each day.

For the past month, I have been receiving e-mail with addresses similar to but not exactly mine in the To: field. Supposing my address were My_name1, Ive received mail for My_name143, My_ name1guy, and other variations. These messages are all spam. I suspect that I may not be receiving mail properly addressed to me, but how can I find out?

My ISPs customer service claims that this is not the companys problem. Friends have suggested that the spammer may be using a program that generates names in an incremental pattern, or that my ISP may be sending me mail for which the address is similar to mine but not the same. Any light you can shed on this will be appreciated.

Jim Birdsall

Unfortunately, your ISP is correct in stating that this particular problem is not its responsibility. The ISP is not sending you messages that are meant for someone else; all those pieces of spam are actually addressed to you.

Spammers do indeed send e-mail to computer-generated lists of names. They typically put the names in the Bcc: (blind carbon copy) field, where those names cant be seen. But since a message with no name in the To: field can be instantly flagged as spam, theyll choose one name from the group for the To: field. As the names in the group are similar, it will seem that you have received mail that was addressed to someone whose address is similar to yours.

Its possible that by switching from a national ISP to a small, local one you might get less of this automatically generated spam. But theres really no way to avoid this except to use a spam-filtering program.

For PC Magazines full coverage of spam-fighting tools and techniques, visit

Neil J. Rubenking Neil Rubenking served as vice president and president of the San Francisco PC User Group for three years when the IBM PC was brand new. He was present at the formation of the Association of Shareware Professionals, and served on its board of directors. In 1986, PC Magazine brought Neil on board to handle the torrent of Turbo Pascal tips submitted by readers. By 1990 he had become PC Magazine's technical editor, and a coast-to-coast telecommuter. His 'User to User' column supplied readers with tips and solutions on using DOS and Windows, his technical columns clarified fine points in programming and operating systems, and his utility articles (over forty of them) provided both useful programs and examples of programming in Pascal, Visual Basic, and Delphi. Mr. Rubenking has also written seven books on DOS, Windows, and Pascal/Delphi programming, including PC Magazine DOS Batch File Lab Notes and the popular Delphi Programming for Dummies. In his current position as a PC Magazine Lead Analyst he evaluates and reports on client-side operating systems and security solutions such as firewalls, anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-spam and full security suites. He continues to answer questions for readers in the ongoing 'Solutions' column and in PC Magazine's discussion forums.

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