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Junk email victims fight back

There's been an explosion of anti-junk-email sites, and experts say it reflects the frustration and often downright anger expressed by a growing number of Netizens over unsolicited mail.

Enter "junk email" into a Web search engine and you could reasonably expect a few hundred results. Instead, you'll be directed to tens of thousands of Web sites, many of which do nothing but rail against junk email.

There's been an explosion of anti-junk-email sites, and experts say it reflects the frustration and often downright anger expressed by a growing number of Netizens about junk email. One site, Stop Junk Email offers tips such as "stay calm, get mad, and fire." Another, Blacklist of Internet Advertisers, compiles blacklists of junk emailers. Others simply point out that it's not easy to stop the practice.

"I'm outraged," said Mark Welch, a Pleasanton, California, lawyer who has his own site on the subject. "Junk email is a form of collect advertising, forcing the recipient to pay for them."

This summer, Welch took America Online to task for its email policies, and he, along with hundreds of others who phoned, wrote, and emailed their concerns, helped persuade the nation's number-one online service provider to become more vigilant about unsolicited mail. AOL's current legal battle against junk emailer CyberPromotions is a case in point.

Of course, not everybody hates receiving junk email. Some people find it useful, and companies involved in the practice defend their legal right to communicate with would-be customers, just as with regular mail.

But increasingly there's a culture clash about the practice, thanks largely to the noncommercial origins of the Net. Not too long ago, the Internet largely was the domain of researchers and scientists who used the network to communicate on lofty projects. Now, of course, it is becoming a mass medium, with commercialism as its main ingredient.

To many users, that spells frustration. "I am sick of receiving junk email. It is becoming harassing!" said the author of one junk email Web site. "So I am getting rude back to the people who are sending me this junk."

So what do you do if you get junked on? Here are some basic tips, according to many of the Web sites that were surveyed:

--When you get junk email, contact your online service or Internet service provider. Many services have set up abuse addresses for junk email, such as for AOL, for Netcom, or for AT&T WorldNet.

That's not always foolproof, however. Keep in mind that ISPs and online services also like to send out unsolicited email to their subscribers. Some may even want to track their customers' activities on the Net and pass the information on to advertisers.

--Copy the junk email and fire it back to the sender with a message like this: "Dear Net Abuser: I have received the above unsolicited commercial email from you. I have to pay for my email, and you have abused my resources and wasted my time." Or you could send what one site calls a standard legal response.

There are laws on the books that frown upon the practice of spamming, but they are wide open to interpretation, according to legal experts.

--If the email smacks of criminal activity, such as a scam or fraud, contact the authorities. They may include the Fraud Information Center, the Federal Trade Commission, or for emails such as unsolicited stock "tips," the Securities and Exchange Commission.