Combatting spam – an example

by Martin Reed on 30 May 2007 in Articles

Back on 9 April 2007, I wrote an article entitled ‘Are you a spam fighter?‘. In that article I wrote about how essential it is for you to fight and destroy spam so it does not ruin your online community.

In this article, I will give you a specific example of how I am fighting spam on just one section of Just Chat.

Email penpals at Just Chat

Screenshot of the Just Chat epals section (click to visit)

The epals section of Just Chat is a service that allows people to register and search for new friends. Similar to the penpal concept, it works in the same way except people exchange correspondence using our internal messaging system.

Full moderation

As this is a free service, we get a lot of spam memberships and Nigerian 419 scammers. Consequently the site is fully moderated – each and every new member is manually approved before they can access the site.

This is the only section of Just Chat that requires me to fully moderate all new accounts. I am always hesitant to fully moderate users because:

  • Web users are impatient
  • If members have to wait, they may go to a competitor
  • If members cannot gain immediate access you ‘lose the heat’
  • It is time consuming to check every account

If epals were not moderated, I would estimate there would be at least 30 memberships each day that would be solely spammers or scammers.

If you imagine 30 accounts sending out at least 50 spam messages per day, that would result in at least 1,500 spam messages being sent to my members on a daily basis.

That would be unacceptable – it would drive genuine members away, making the epals service worthless.

Speedy moderation

Because I have committed myself to fully moderating all new accounts, it is essential that I do so as quickly as possible. If I leave it too long, users may forget about the site.

Users may lose interest in joining by the time they receive the approval email. This is what I call ‘losing the heat’ – it is the very last thing you want to happen when developing an online community.

If you decide to fully moderate your user generated content, ensure you are a speedy moderator.

Spotting potential spammers

It is relatively easy to spot the potential spammers when going through the lists of new members. The more experienced I become, the easier it is to spot and delete them before they alienate my members.

Characteristics of the typical 419 scammer

I often find the following similarities between 419 scammers:

1) is their favourite email domain

Although they use others, I would say that around 90% of the spammers that attempt to register on Just Chat epals use an ‘’ email address.

2) They are not afraid to use their real names

Sure, you wont remember individual names but African names are quite distinctive. I don’t want to share specific examples here, but once you become familiar with them you can use this as a factor in determining whether they are a genuine user.

Of course you must remember that just because someone is African, it does not mean they are a spammer!

3) They preach

I was going to make separate headings here, but it can easily be summarised into the following statement ‘they preach’.

Of all the 419 scammers I have come across at Just Chat epals, almost all of them ‘preach’ in their profiles.

Example of their preaches include:

  • Being loyal to the word of God
  • Stating how humble and loyal they are
  • Stating their belief in traditional values
  • Telling you how much they are a ‘good boy / girl’

Do not delete the genuine users

These are just some of the characteristics I have found on my own site. Just because a user joins with similar characteristics to these, it does not necessarily mean they are a spammer or scam artist.

Caution should always be employed before deleting a member – if you make a mistake you have permanently alienated a potential new member of your community.

Dealing with spam – your examples

How do you deal with spam on your site? Do you have your own techniques for spotting the spammers and scammers? Do you take action before they start to damage your site or community?

Whatever your experiences and whatever your thoughts – share them by leaving a comment below.

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Chicago 2016 May 30, 2007 at 1:43 pm

I like to see if the person is making a relevant comment. If they are, then chances are they’re not a spammer, no?

Rehuel May 30, 2007 at 1:51 pm

I got 2 examples:
1: I run Akismet on my WP blog, so most spam is caught before it reaches my site. But sometimes it catches “good mail” too. You comment on my “Helping visitors browse your content” post was caught by Aksimet as spam. Good thing I first check my spam mail folder before just deleting it all.

2: I found a comment on my article about “Monitizing with Amazon” awaiting moderation. In this comment the visitor links to a “Amazon a Store tutorial” site. The site is pretty good, the tutorials very clear, but the site was loaded with affiliate links, which would mean that my affiliate links would be overruled. I had to choose between providing my readers with some useful information or protecting my (possible) income. When I checked my stats I found that someone reached my site through google, searching for “astore”. It was clearer that this person had no real intention of adding value to my blog. I liked his comment, so i left it, but I removed the links, with a note that they were removed due to a conflict of interest.

Man now it looks like I’m writing a post in your blog :)

Martin Reed May 30, 2007 at 2:33 pm

Daniel – I think in many ways we are spoilt with WordPress. I know no other software package that offers such comprehensive spam protection (once Akismet is activated).

You are right – once a user makes a valuable first few comments you can be pretty sure they don’t have any shady intentions!

Rehuel – Sometimes it can be a tough call trying to determine if a comment is spam or not! It is essential to keep an eye on the Akismet folder – as you say, genuine comments can end up in there from time to time.

Chicago 2016 May 31, 2007 at 12:47 am

Does anyone have an Akismet key I can borrow? While I run WordPress, I never signed up for a WordPress account. (Blush)


Martin Reed May 31, 2007 at 1:18 am

Hey Daniel – just register for a WordPress account, and you can get an API key almost immediately:

Just choose the option for a username rather than a blog.

PS – I removed your email address from your comment in order to prevent spam bots getting hold of it.

Chicago 2016 May 31, 2007 at 4:07 pm

Thanks a lot, Martin. I’ll have something to send you in about a week. An interesting little project. E-mail me if you want.

Martin Reed May 31, 2007 at 5:42 pm

Sounds interesting – I’ll drop you an email :)

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