No Such Addressee

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 www.pcmag.com/spam.