Q: I am overwhelmed with spam email of late, and I just got notification from a credit monitoring company (which I signed up for because I was notified that my personal information had been compromised) that my Hotmail address was found on the “dark web.” Can this be the reason I keep getting so much spam email? I don’t know what to do. I was told to change my password or create an alias email account — should I do that? If so, how do I do that?
— Darel B., Ellsworth, Maine
A: The “Dark Web” is a part of the internet that isn’t visible to search engines and typically requires the use of “anonymizing” browsers to access.
Most people familiar with the “Dark Web” know it as a hot bed of illegal online activity. And in many ways it is exactly that, as one can indeed find and purchase anything from credit card numbers to software to bank logins on it.
What’s ironic is that it’s also home to thousands of legitimate entities as well (social networks, chess clubs, etc.), who use it means of experiencing the web without having to deal with monitoring or tracking elements found all over the regular web. The Dark Web itself contains trillions of sites in all, it should be noted.
Is your information found on the “Dark Web”?
Many major database breaches have occurred in recent years, including ones from Target, Yahoo!, JP Morgan Chase, Marriott and more, and if you had (or have) an account with one of those entities then there’s a good chance your information has become available on the “Dark Web” somewhere.
Is this why you’re receiving so much spam?
Even though your information may be on the “Dark Web,” it doesn’t mean that spammers have targeted you specifically as a place to send their unwanted messages. Given the trillions of pages worth of information found the “Dark Web” locating your exact details is nearly impossible (and expensive). Rather, it’s more likely your email address has been lumped together with millions of others that were obtained via a breached database into a single mailing list.
In addition to this, your spam woes could also have been caused by other means as well, such as requesting to be taken off a spammer’s mailing list (including those links to “unsubscribe” or “opt out” of future messages found at the bottom of many emails).
No one should ever respond to spam, no matter what. All this does is verify that your address is active and doing so almost always results in more spam being sent your way. So if you see spam in your inbox, block it and do so repeatedly — this will trigger your account’s spam filters and little by little they will start weeding the spam you are receiving out. It takes time but it will happen.
If the amount of spam you receive becomes too much to manage, then the suggestions above are great next steps to take. (It also couldn’t hurt to reach out to Hotmail support as well and inform them of the problem too, so they can increase your spam monitoring as well. They can be reached through this URL: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/contactus/)
Changing your account password will stop any outside forces from accessing your account without your knowledge — just in case your account has been hacked into. Instructions for doing this in Hotmail can be found at this URL: https://ccm.net/faq/53036-how-to-change-a-hotmail-or-outlook-account-password
The suggestion of opening another Hotmail account will provide you with a blank slate to work from. While you will need to spend some time notifying your family, friends and coworkers of the address change, and you’ll have to update any legitimate email subscriptions so that your messages will be delivered to this new address, all those spammers will not know about the new account and as such will not be able to send messages to you.
At least not for a little while.
Instructions for creating an alias account in Hotmail can be found at this URL: https://www.thewindowsclub.com/create-add-use-outlook-email-alias
In the meantime, if you fear your information has been compromised, please inform your bank, credit card companies and any companies you have online accounts with of this so they can help you stop any potential identity theft or other malicious activity as soon as possible.
Untangling the web
Curious if your information is found somewhere on the Dark Web? Use this anonymous scan to find out. Simply enter your email address in the blank provided and hit the “pwned?” button — seconds later the site will tell you if data pertaining to that address is available on the Dark Web or not. Keep in mind that the scan does not collect your information, nor will it tell you where your information is found, only that it is there. If your address comes up positive, don’t fret — this doesn’t mean your information has been stolen, only that it’s available for those who are looking for it. Use this knowledge as a precautionary tool — change your passwords and monitor your bank and credit card accounts every now and then to ensure they are not compromised. Naturally, if you spot suspicious activity then report it immediately.
Contact Eyal Goldshmid @ firstname.lastname@example.org