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IM users often deal with IM spam similar to email. At least one solution that's cumbersome in email works well in IM, and should be your default.

Today when I turned on my computer, there was a IM from someone I didn't recognize. I closed it as I figured it was just someone up to no good. I always thought you had to get the permission before someone would accept instant messages from you. My son has seen this also. Do you think this was someone that knew us both? Or do you think it's trouble brewing? I've never heard of this before.

Is it someone who knows you? Probably not. Trouble brewing? Perhaps.

But it's trouble that's easily avoided.

It's certainly possible to accept IMs only from people who you know. However not all instant message programs are configured that way by default. When they're not so configured, then anyone can IM you. Anyone at all.

Why might a total stranger IM you? Usually it's to entice you into something more serious. Much like spam or email viruses there are people, and automated computers, that are trying to sell you things, get you to download malicious software, or get you to visit web sites which in turn infect your machine with malware.

The first thing to do is exactly what you and your son both did: close the IM window from people you don't know. Never respond.

You might be tempted to use your IM program's "block" feature to prevent that person from IM'ing you again, and you certainly can. It won't hurt, it just won't help much. They'll simply, eventually, keep IM'ing you from different accounts.

"The right thing to do is to only accept IMs from people you know."

The right thing to do is to only accept IMs from people you know. Change your IM program's configuration so that only people you've added to your contacts or allow list are allowed to IM you.

In Windows Live Messenger (8.1) click on Tools, Options, and then click on the Privacy section:

Windows Live Messenger privacy settings

Simply click on "Only people on my Allow List can see my status and send mess messages". If that is unchecked, anyone can IM you.

Similarly, with AIM (6.0), click on Edit, Settings, and click on the Privacy settings:

AIM Privacy Settings

Make sure that "Allow only users on my Buddy List" is checked.

In Trillian, privacy settings are per-account. For example, the privacy settings for an MSN Instant Messenger account configured in Trillian might look like this:

Privacy settings for MSN Instant Messenger in Trillian

Be sure that "Only people on my Allow List can see my status and send me messages" is checked.

There are too many other instant messaging programs to list here, but the idea is the same in each: locate the privacy settings associated with the account you're using, and make sure it's configured to reject IMs from people you don't know.

Article C3151 - September 16, 2007 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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1 Comment
August 17, 2010 9:33 PM

I'm not sure when this article was posted but I'm finding lately that the "only people on my allow list can see my status and send me messages" option is not working.. It's set but just now i logged in to have 5 messages from different accounts all saying "guess what??" Guess what? I thought to myself.. SPAM.. but why is messenger no longer blocking it.. a hole in the messenger protocol?

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