How to fight South African spam (uninvited bulk email)

Most (unsolicited bulk email) spam is commercial, but NGOs also offend. In my last NGO job, I was put in a very nasty situation by my then boss, who pressured me to add all our contacts to our mailing lists, without their explicit consent. I don’t believe, however, that having a worthy cause is an excuse for stealing people’s email details and invading their inboxes. In fact, it’s pretty stupid public relations – it makes your organisation look unprofessional and desperate. An organisation that really has something to offer will never struggle to build its mailing lists by legitimate means, and vice versa.

Sending spam is also a breach of most Internet service contracts.

Happily, reputable ISPs (and most SA ISPs are reputable) are your firm allies in fighting spam, both commercial and non-commercial, from South African organisations.

If you have time occasionally – five minutes is enough once you know how – this is the spam complaint procedure, assuming the spam comes from the .co.za domain.

1) Go to http://co.za/whois.shtml to search for the name of the ISP with which that domain is registered. (This site also links to .org.za searches, etc.)
2) Copy the full email headers from the offending email. Highlight the message, then, in Mac Mail, go View – Message – All Headers; in Outlook 2010, go File – Properties – Internet Headers.
3) Every ISP has an email abuse desk. Their email addresses are standardised – always abuse@[name.of.ISP].co.za.
4) Send the offending email to the abuse desk of the ISP in question, along with the full email headers, and a quick but courteous note explaining that you did not opt in to receive this email, and that you’re upset by the conduct of their customer.

Usually, they will take prompt but firm action against the offender. In one case, I had a charity phoning and begging me to withdraw my complaint, saying their funding was threatened by having their Internet account frozen. (I did, as they’d obviously got a huge fright and seemed genuinely repentant.)

Equivalent procedures hold for many international domains.

About David

I am an environmental writer, journalist and speaker living in Cape Town, South Africa.
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