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Autoresponder Messages: Use Caution!

From time to time you’ve probably sent an email to somebody and received back an auto-generated, generic, “I’m out of the office until XYZ date,” or similar message.

As popular as those types of messages are, it’s really not a good idea to use them for a number of reasons, not the least of which is you cannot control who receives them. Those types of messages are "knee-jerk" responses and will be generated to any mail addressed to you, including spam, from every advertiser, x-rated product and service, goofy offer, and anything else that slithers into your in-box.

The problem with that is you'll be confirming to spammers that your address is a valid email address, and that makes your address more valuable to other spammers. The amount of junk mail you're likely to receive can increase exponentially as a result of churning out auto-generated messages.

Spammers live for ANY type of response to let them know that the millions of junk mails they send out hit a "valid" email address that somebody actually checks. As soon as your auto-generated response is sent back, your email address is elevated into a new "validated" category of email address that is sold to other spammers at a premium.

Keep in mind, also, that you may receive messages while you’re gone that request a response in order to sign you up for something or send you more junk. Those are called “opt-in” messages and any response from you can be sufficient to start the ball rolling on something you wouldn't want to be part of and can never get out of without canceling your email address.

In addition, using an auto-responder “I’m on vacation” or “I’m away from the office” message can create an endless loop that can swamp your ISP's mail server and cause it to cancel your account.

For example, you might receive an email advertisement that your auto-responder responds to. Your auto-generated email may trigger an acknowledgement response, which is very common. The acknowledgement response sent back to your email address will, of course, trigger yet another one of your “I’m on vacation” messages, which will trigger yet another auto-generated acknowledgment, and on and on it goes with two auto-responders firing off messages to each other every couple of seconds and swamping the mail system.

Companies that are on the cutting edge and truly in the know are putting the brakes on auto-responders. I used them myself for many years but discontinued the practice entirely once spam became the tremendous challenge that it is today and I began seeing the number of problems created by auto-responder messages.

I work with several law enforcement agencies helping to keep people safe online. One of the things we try to emphasize is that people should not let others know they're going to be away on vacation. Whether true or not, that suggests that your house may be vacant and there are some pretty nasty people out there who may seize upon that information and try to use it to their advantage.

I've seen a number of instances where a person using an auto-responder message to let others know he or she is away on vacation, has been burglarized or victimized in some fashion. How? Because their auto-generated response got into the hands of somebody who then ran their email address through one or more databases and/or Google searches and managed to come up with a name or an address -- and the rest is unfortunate history.

The reality is no matter who tries to contact you while you’re gone, if they don't receive a response, they will simply conclude that you're away from your computer and it won't be a big deal at all. If there are a few "key" people in your life that need to know you'll be away, by all means, email them directly or give them a call and let them know.

Most importantly, stay safe!

Mr. M.

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