How to keep spam bots from stealing addresses from your web site

by Michael Bluejay of Website Helpers | July 2004 • Updated January 2011

'If you put an email address on a web page without taking special precautions, spammers will steal it.' They use automated programs called spambots which scour websites looking for email addresses to add to their lists. It's not that they might lift the address, they will lift the address. Usually, it won't take long. If you're putting email addresses on the web, you must take precautions to prevent this -- especially if you're posting someone's address other than your own.

If you think, "That's okay, I have a spam filter," then you're in for a nasty surprise. Your filter will sometimes send real messages to your spam folder by mistake, and you won't see them. If you think you can just check your spam folder occassionally, can you really do that when you get hundreds or thousands of spam messages a day? And if you think it's okay because you're not currently getting that much spam....if your email address is on a web page, then someday you will.

The point is, spam filters are not a solution. You have to prevent spam in the first place. And the first step is removing any plain address from the web ASAP.

There are a number of ways to hide your email address from spammers. Unfortunately each of them has a downside. Then again, spam is worse than the downside, so we accept the downside because it's better than surrendering our addresses to spammers.

In a perfect world, you could have all of the following on your web pages:

  • Address is visible to users
  • Address is copyable
  • Address is clickable
  • Javascript isn't required to display the address
  • Users don't have to hassle answering a challenge-resonse email

When you do something to keep spambots from stealing addresses from your web pages you'll give up at least one of those features. It's the price of thwarting spambots, but it's a necessary price.

None of these things will prevent spam that you're already receiving. Once an address has been stolen by spammers there's no way to get them to "un-steal" it. Spam is like cancer -- it's a lot easier to prevent than it is to cure. [More on preventing cancer.] Like so many things in life, if you wait until something becomes a problem, then often there's no easy solution. It's always better to prevent the problem from occurring in the first place. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Let's look at some prevention methods for keeping spambots away from addresses on your web pages.